With a place at Rugby World Cup 2019 at stake, the start of the NatWest 6 Nations and two crunch clashes in the Americas Rugby Championship, we’re all set for a spectacular start to February.
Here’s a brief look at the six matches that will impact on the World Rugby Rankings this weekend.
WALES (7) v SCOTLAND (5)
With Wales missing a number of leading players through injury, Warren Gatland has gone bold in his selection and chosen some new combinations in key areas. The English Premiership’s leading try scorer Josh Adams is handed a debut on the wing as he looks to translate his stunning form for Worcester onto the international stage. He is the only non-Scarlets player in the backline with Rhys Patchell starting at fly-half for the first time in an international due to the injuries to Dan Biggar and Rhys Priestland. Up front, it is an all-Scarlets back row, while Aaron Shingler lines up at six alongside Ross Moriarty and Josh Navidi in the back row.
News from the #statcave (it’s been a while)— Will Kelleher (@willgkelleher) January 30, 2018
On Saturday Rob Evans, Ken Owens & Samson Lee will become the first all Llanelli/Scarlets front-row to start a Test for @WelshRugbyUnion while playing for the region since 1891!#WALvSCO #SixNations#rugby
Scotland have not been without their injury problems either, particularly in the front row. Props Gordon Reid and Jon Welsh and hooker Stuart McInally are supported in the scrum by the second-row duo Ben Toolis and Jonny Gray, while John Barclay captains the side from the blindside. Hamish Watson and Cornell du Preez make up the back row. Welsh’s Newcastle team-mate Chris Harris wins his first start at centre alongside Huw Jones.
- Scotland’s 29-13 win over Ireland in 2017 was their first on the opening weekend of a Six Nations campaign since beating France in 2006, and only the second time they have won their opener since Italy joined the competition in 2000
- Last year’s win ended a run of nine consecutive defeats against Wales, it was also Scotland’s biggest victory over the Welsh since 1993 (20-0)
- The last time Scotland beat Wales in Cardiff was in 2002, with a brace of tries from Gordon Bulloch and 14 points from the boot of Brendan Laney the difference back then (27-22)
- Since 2010, Scotland have lost 15 of their 17 away games in the Six Nations, with their only two victories in that period coming in Rome against Italy
- Wales’ fifth-place finish in 2017 was their lowest for a decade. Scotland ended up in fourth
- Scotland’s tally of 14 tries in 2017 was their highest in Six Nations history
A Scotland win in Cardiff on Saturday sees them leapfrog Australia and move into the top four for the first time since the rankings were introduced in October 2003. If the win is by more than 15 points and is combined with any form of defeat for Ireland against France in Paris, Gregor Townsend’s side will climb to the dizzy heights of third.
It is also possible for Wales to move up a couple of places, to fifth, on the back of a win by more than 15 points, as the 1.35 rating points on offer would take them above South Africa and Scotland.
FRANCE (9) v IRELAND (3)
Mathieu Jalibert will make his France debut at the age of 19, lining up at fly-half alongside Maxime Machenaud. Geoffrey Palis is also set to take his international bow after being named at full-back by Jacques Brunel in his first match in charge of Les Bleus. Elsewhere in the backs, Henry Chavancy will combine with Rémi Lamerat in the centres and Racing 92 pair Virimi Vakatawa and Teddy Thomas start on the wings. Guilhem Guirado will captain the side in an experienced front row, next to props Jefferson Poirot and Rabah Slimani. Arthur Iturria makes his first start for France in the second row, alongside Clermont team-mate Sébastien Vahaamahina, and in the back-row, Kevin Gourdon moves to number eight for the first time at test level.
Ireland’s most-capped hooker Rory Best captains the visitors and is joined in the front row by Cian Healy and Tadhg Furlong. Iain Henderson and James Ryan line up in the second row with Peter O’Mahony, Josh van der Flier and CJ Stander filling the back-row positions. Conor Murray and Johnny Sexton are named at half-back with Bundee Aki and Robbie Henshaw in midfield. The back three consists of Rob Kearney at full-back with Keith Earls and Jacob Stockdale on the wings.
- France won last year’s fixture, 19-9
- The 10-point winning margin matched that of the previous five Six Nations meetings put together, including two draws
- The losing team has scored nine points in each of the lost three Six Nations meetings
- Ireland have only won three times in Paris in 40 years
- France lost their opener to England last season, but they have not lost their first match of consecutive Five/Six Nations campaigns since 1963-64
- Across the 2016 and 2017 Six Nations tournaments, Ireland picked up just one away victory with that win coming in Rome against Italy
- Ireland have scored 999 points against France in the history of the Championship
- Johnny Sexton will draw level with England's Jonny Wilkinson for Five/Six Nations starts (31) on Saturday
France can supplant Argentina in eighth place if they register any form of victory over Ireland. The biggest reward on offer to Ireland for an away victory is seven-tenths of a rating point – not enough for them to trouble England in second, even if the defending Six Nations champions suffer their first-ever defeat to Italy.
ITALY (14) v ENGLAND (2)
Great to see Ben Te’o at 13. Joseph has played well for England but I think having a runner with his power is a strong addition to a sharp backline. Can’t wait to see this side play. #6Nations pic.twitter.com/mUs1924Kmj— Tom May (@TomMay1) February 2, 2018
Alessandro Zanni makes his first test start in the second row in a match when he wins his 100th cap. The positional change enables Sebastian Negri to step into the back row on the blindside for his Six Nations debut. Sergio Parisse leads Italy into battle for the 82nd time, leaving him just one match shy of John Smit in third place in the all-time list for most appearances as captain. The number eight will run out for his 130th test on Sunday, a figure that only Zanni and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini can come close to in the Azzurri squad.
Dylan Hartley captains an experienced England side with 689 caps across the starting 15 in what will be his 90th test for his country. Hartley packs down with Mako Vunipola and Dan Cole with Joe Launchbury and Maro Itoje the chosen second-row combination. Sam Simmonds will win his fourth cap at number eight and is joined in the back row by Courtney Lawes and Chris Robshaw.
Ben Youngs will start his 56th test match, overtaking Matt Dawson’s record of most starts for an England scrum-half, while replacement Danny Care will equal Dawson for most caps at scrum-half if he plays a role in the match. Exeter prop Alec Hepburn is in line to make his test debut from the bench.
- England are gunning for an unprecedented hat-trick of Six Nations titles
- Italy have not won in the Championship since February 2015 – a 12-game losing streak, two short of the Six Nations record
- Four points is the lowest margin of defeat suffered by Italy at the hands of England (both in Rome in 2008 and 2011)
- England have won all 23 of their matches against Italy, with 18 of those matches coming in this tournament, only one tier one match-up has seen a side record more than 24 consecutive wins over another (New Zealand, 30 v Wales, New Zealand, 24 v Argentina).
With 12 places and the best part of 20 rating points separating England from Italy, there is no prize on offer for an away win in ranking terms. However, should Italy pull off one of the biggest shocks in Six Nations history and beat England for the first time in 25 attempts, they stand to gain between two and three full rating points depending on the margin of victory. A rise of two places is within their grasp, with Georgia and Tonga each dropping one.
RUGBY WORLD CUP QUALIFIER
URUGUAY (18) v CANADA (21)
- Canada have never missed out on a Rugby World Cup before, and face the four-team global repechage unless they can overhaul the nine-point deficit from the first leg of this RWC 2019 qualifier, which ended 38-29 to Uruguay
- Canada lead the head-to-head eight wins to three since the sides first met in 1995, but Los Teros have won both the last two meetings
- Uruguay recorded their highest score against Canada in the first leg in Vancouver
- DTH van der Merwe extended his Canadian try-scoring record to 29 in last week’s defeat in Vancouver
Uruguay cannot overtake the USA in the rankings as a maximum of 12-hundredths of a rating point is up for grabs, and the gap between the two countries is currently 0.39. A Canadian victory would result in them leapfrogging Spain and moving back into the world’s top 20. Los Teros will fall one place to 19th if they lose by more than 15 points on home soil.
AMERICAS RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
CHILE (24) v BRAZIL (28)
- Chile have only won once in 10 Americas Rugby Championship outings
- Chile finished bottom of the table in each of the first two years of the competition
- The sides have met 26 times since 1951 and Brazil have only won three and drawn two, although two of those wins have come in recent years
- A Brazil win will lift them to their highest-ever ranking
Chile cannot move any higher than their current standing of 24th, but the gap between themselves and Namibia would be down to just 0.08 if they were to beat Brazil by more than 15 points. Brazil would trade places with Chile if they were to win by a similarly comfortable margin.
One other match counts towards the World Rugby Rankings this weekend. Switzerland (32) take on the Ivory Coast (50) in a game in Chens-sur-Leman that, if it goes according to form and ends in a big home win, will result in the Swiss improving their ranking by one place.
The Americas Rugby Championship game between defending champions USA and 2016 winners Argentina XV in Carson City, California, does not count towards the rankings as it does not carry test match status.
The World Rugby Rankings will update at 12:00 GMT on Monday.
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