OPINION: By Tony SMITH
Can World Rugby's rankings be taken seriously if the Wallabies are rated the third-best team in the rugby universe?
Does anyone outside Michael Cheika's living room believe the Wallabies are a better side than Ireland?
Don't forget that the "third-best rugby nation in the world" had to drop a Super Rugby team because the Australian talent pool was shallower than a waterhole in the outback after decades of drought.
It's hardly fair to allow Australia to leapfrog Ireland, who haven't played at full-strength since the end of the Six Nations tournament in March.
By the same token, how can Australia be ranked two places higher than South Africa after drawing twice with the Springboks in the Rugby Championship?
The Wallabies only finished ahead of the Boks on the Sanzaar series points table because they piled on more points against an abject Argentina team, who have slipped to 10th in the world rankings after making the World Cup semifinals two years ago.
World Rugby's latest rankings raise more questions than they answer. Primarily, why do they bother updating them so often?
An annual ranking - after the November northern hemisphere internationals window - would be a better barometer.
It would be devilishly difficult to rank four of the Six Nations sides in 2017 with England, Ireland, Wales and Scotland sending under-strength teams on southern hemisphere tours in June while the British and Irish Lions were battling the All Blacks.
Seeing the Wallabies sitting in third place on the World Rugby totem confirms international rugby union is at a low ebb.
We'll get a better idea if Australia have improved appreciably after they play Wales, England and Scotland on their November tour.
It's hard to see Cheika's mob beating Eddie Jones' England, although an alarming number of early-season injuries to key England players may level the playing field. Wales could also grind the Wallabies down and Australian sides have struggled against Scotland, at full strength, in recent seasons.
Kiwis can afford to be smug about World Rugby rankings with the All Blacks and Black Ferns top of their logs.
But, glancing down the ladders makes sorry reading. International men's rugby - with a top eight of New Zealand, England, Australia, Ireland, South Africa, Scotland, Wales and France - has scarcely more depth than international men's hockey (Argentina, Australia, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, India, England, New Zealand).
Women's rugby is still developing internationally, but only two teams, currently, are bona fide World Cup title contenders - New Zealand and England. Mind you, netball has had a World Cup since 1963 but has so far produced just two outright champions - Australia and New Zealand.
World Rugby is bent on proving it is a genuine global sport - hence it churns out world ranking lists with the dizzying alacrity of Jason Taumalolo switching his test rugby league status.
What do world rankings mean? Diddly squat, you might say. It depends on the criteria.
Fifa oversees the world's biggest sport - football - yet its rankings system is under review after years of carping.
It used to calculate points gained from performances over the past eight years - but later amended it to four. However, critics still complained
Four years - let alone eight - is a long time in sport (witness the Pumas' plummet since the 2015 Rugby World Cup).
Argentina are ranked fourth on the Fifa men's table, yet they struggled to qualify for the 2018 World Cup finals despite fielding the world's best player, Lionel Messi.
Some sports have bizarre rankings systems - like the World Baseball Softball Council, which lumps in junior grade international results with senior side's performances. Hence you have the New Zealand White Sox ranked fifth on the women's softball ladder when they finished eighth at the 2016 world championships.
Yet world sport rankings are rather like political opinion polls. Just as only one poll really counts - on election day - the real measure of sporting supremacy is the relevant world championships.
I really couldn't care who tops the rankings between Rugby World Cups - especially when the No 1 team (New Zealand) hasn't played the No 2 side (England) since 2014.