New Zealand are the first team to top the rankings ©Getty Images

World Rugby has introduced rankings for the international women's XVs game for the first time - with New Zealand the first team to top the pile.

The standings have been introduced after a painstaking process of analysing every result in history, from the first official women's international matches which were played in 1987.

New Zealand sit on top having won the World Cup four times, most recently in England in 2010.

France are ranked second while England, the World Cup holders after victory on French soil last year, are third.

The rankings came into force on February 1 and are based on the same criteria as the men's list, which is also topped by New Zealand, the world champions.

World Rugby Chairman Bernard Lapasset said: "World Rugby is committed to driving forward the competitiveness of the women's game and the new rankings are yet another significant milestone.

"After the success of the Women's Rugby World Cup in 2014 and the excitement building up to the next edition in 2017 in Ireland, it's vital for international teams to have a rankings focus that will drive exposure and interest as well as increasing the competition schedule, as it encourages member unions to play more test matches.

Rachael Burford's England are ranked third
Rachael Burford's England are ranked third ©Getty Images

"It's a positive step for one of the fastest growing team sports in the world, as it brings parity with the men's game.

"Today's announcement also comes as a timely boost ahead of what will be an exciting Women's Six Nations Championship.”

The rankings have been calculated using a points exchange system, in which sides take points off each other based on the match result.

This means that when one side gains, the other loses, but to prevent an unfair skewing of the table due to the relatively small number of games that have been played compared to the men, as well as discrepancies in the number of matches different countries have played, all teams were given 80 ranking points from 1987.

Then, for each year between 1987 and the year that an individual union played their first women's full international match, two points are deducted from their total.

Similar to the men's rankings, teams will be penalised an equivalent amount to a loss to a significantly lower ranked team per year if they do not play any matches in the space of two calendar years.

England's World Cup winner Rachael Burford, who also sits on the Rugby Committee and Athlete's Commission, said: "It's great to see an official rankings system introduced to the women's game.

"I believe the rankings will really add an extra competitive edge for the upcoming RBS Six Nations and other international test matches in the future, which can only be good for the game.

"The rankings will also give an extra boost to the promotion of the women's game around the world.”

The full rankings can be viewed here