Six Nations fans could be forgiven for feeling a touch of déjà vu this weekend with two of the competition's fixtures re-enacted as part of the build-up to Rugby World Cup 2019.

Ireland take on Italy at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin in what amounts to a homecoming for Azzurri head coach Conor O'Shea, while a day later at Twickenham another chapter will be written in the 138-year-old history of England and Wales encounters. France and Scotland complete the set when they face each other in the first of their RWC 2019 warm-ups in Nice next Saturday.

We take a look at the key team news and stats and work out how the World Rugby Rankings may be affected by this weekend's outcomes.



IRELAND (3) v ITALY (14) 

Team news

Munster’s Jean Kleyn will make his Ireland debut in the second row alongside Devin Toner in a new-look Ireland side captained by Rhys Ruddock. Full-back Mike Haley could also win his first cap if called upon from the bench.

Ruddock is joined in the back row by Jordi Murphy and Tommy O’Donnell, who won the last of his 12 caps against Scotland in 2016, while full-back Dave Kearney is another to return to international rugby after a lengthy absence, the winger winning his 18th cap and first since November 2017. Kearney is joined in the back-three by Jordan Larmour and Andrew Conway.

Elsewhere, Jack McGrath, Rob Herring and Andrew Porter are named in the front row, while Luke McGrath and Joey Carbery fill the half-back positions and Chris Farrell and Garry Ringrose form the centre pairing.

Benetton tight-head prop Marco Riccioni will make his test debut for Italy and could be joined by former England U20 captain Callum Braley from the bench as Dean Budd will lead the Azzurri in Dublin. 

Budd becomes the seventh player to be handed the captain's armband during Conor O'Shea's tenure as head coach, the second-row following in the footsteps of Sergio Parisse, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Edoardo Gori, Simone Favaro, Francesco Minto and Michele Campagnaro. Test centurion Alessandro Zanni joins him in the second row.

Giovanni Licata, Maxime Mbandà and Jimmy Tuivaiti form an all-Zebre back-row, with loose-head Nicola Quaglio and hooker Oliviero Fabiani completing the pack.

In the backs, there is a welcome return for Matteo Minozzi, who scored in four consecutive Six Nations matches in 2018 before missing all of last season through injury, although the 23-year-old will have to wait for a chance to impress after being named on the bench.

Attempting to control the match at half-back will be Guglielmo Palazzani and Zebre team-mate Carlo Canna, while Marco Zanon wins his second cap at inside centre, having made his debut in the Six Nations finale against France. He is named alongside Tommaso Benvenuti. The back three includes Angelo Esposito and Giulio Bisegni on the wings with Edoardo Padovani at full-back.

In brief

  • Ireland have won 26 matches to Italy's four in the 30 previous meetings, scoring more than 1,000 points in the process
  • Ireland are averaging just over 50 points per match in their last four meetings with Italy
  • Ireland won 26-16 when the sides last met in Rome in February
  • Conor O'Shea has won just six of his 32 tests in charge of the Azzurri 

Rankings predictor

  • Ireland can return to second, but only if they win and Wales lose by more than 15 points against England
  • Ireland could drop to fifth if they lose and other results go against them
  • Italy could climb as high as 10th – a position not held since June 2013 – but this would require them to win by more than 15 points and Fiji and Japan to also lose by a similar margin 15

ENGLAND (5) v WALES (2) 

Eddie Jones has handed debuts to two players in Gloucester scrum-half Willi Heinz and Bath speedster Ruaridh McConnochie. The latter's inclusion completes a remarkable transformation from international sevens to 15s in just one full season of top-flight rugby.

Heinz has been handed the added responsibility of vice-captain, a role he shares with openside Sam Underhill, while his half-back partner George Ford will lead England out for only the third time.

McConnochie's Bath team-mate Anthony Watson lines up on the left-wing following his recovery from a long-term injury, while Elliott Daly is named at full-back. Piers Francis and Henry Slade are Eddie Jones' chosen midfield combination.

In the pack, Ellis Genge and Luke Cowan-Dickie accompany Dan Cole in the front row, Joe Launchbury and Charlie Ewels pack down behind them and Tom Curry and Billy Vunipola join Underhill in the back row.

Northampton loose forward Lewis Ludlam and Harlequins centre Joe Marchant could make their test bows from the bench.

Wales coach Warren Gatland has named a vastly experienced team for the trip to London with one test centurion and five other players with 50 caps or more to their name included in a starting line-up boasting 676 caps between them.

Top of the list is captain Alun Wyn Jones who plays in his 127th test for Wales – only two short of the national team record held by Gethin Jenkins – and 135th in total including the British and Irish Lions. Adam Beard packs down beside him in the second-row.

Nicky Smith, Ken Owens and Tomas Francis make up the front-row, while the back-row consists of Dragons duo, blindside Aaron Wainwright and number eight Ross Moriarty and Ospreys openside Justin Tipuric. 

Gareth Anscombe starts at fly-half, partnering Gareth Davies at half-back, with Dan Biggar providing cover on the bench. Hadleigh Parkes and Jonathan Davies unite in midfield and Josh Adams, George North and Liam Williams provide the back-three threats in a backline unchanged from their Six Nations Grand Slam clincher.

In brief

  • England have won 62 matches to Wales' 58 with 12 draws in the previous 132 meetings
  • Wales won 23-13 in Cardiff when the sides last met earlier this year
  • England have won the last three matches at Twickenham since their 28-25 loss at RWC 2015
  • Alun Wyn Jones will become Wales' most capped rugby player (Lions and Wales) when he takes to the field for his 135th test 
  • Wales will be looking to extend their record 14-match winning run in tests

Rankings predictor

  • Wales will top the rankings for the first time since they were introduced in October 2003 if they win and New Zealand fail to beat Australia a day earlier
  • They could lose second place if they are beaten by more than 15 points and Ireland win, but cannot drop below third
  • England will swap places with South Africa above even if both sides win this weekend – they could climb to third if Ireland also lose to Italy

The World Rugby Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.