Ireland would not only become the last remaining unbeaten team in this year’s RBS Six Nations if they beat England in Dublin on Sunday, they’d also reclaim third place from Stuart Lancaster’s men in the World Rugby Rankings.
The Irish lost their mantle as the leading northern hemisphere team in the rankings earlier in the championship when, despite victory over Italy in Rome, they were overtaken by RWC 2015 hosts England on the back of their win over Wales in the Cardiff curtain-raiser.
With both teams winning their follow-up games, the status quo remained the same after round two with England third on 85.83 points – 0.17 ahead of the defending Six Nations champions.
However, any form of win for Ireland at the Aviva Stadium would be enough for them to leapfrog their visitors, as well as equalling their record 10-match unbeaten run. A victory by more than 15 points would put Ireland the best part of two points ahead of their nearest rivals and 1.50 points behind second-placed South Africa.
Recent history points to an England win, though. England have won their last four Tests against Ireland, and if successful again, by a margin greater than 15 points, the gap between themselves and the Springboks in the rankings would be down to less than half a point.
The prize of fifth place – currently occupied by RWC 2015 Pool A rivals Australia – is within Wales’s grasp if they manage to do what no other Welsh team has done since 1909 and beat the French by more than 15 points in a Test match on French soil. Philippe Saint-Andre’s side are assured of seventh place even if that is the case.
A similarly big win for France in Paris on Saturday would see them move up one place in the rankings to sixth at the expense of the Red Dragons. Wales have not won four matches in a row against the French since the 1950s.
Win or lose in Scotland on Saturday, Italy cannot improve their 14th place in the rankings. Scotland, though, could fall as many as three places to 12th – equalling their lowest ever position – should they succumb to the Azzurri in spectacular fashion in what has often been the Six Nations wooden spoon decider.
Oaks ready to stand tall
Away from the Six Nations, there are four European Nations Cup fixtures this weekend. Top billing arguably goes to Russia v Romania, who are 20th and 16th in the rankings respectively. Romania currently top the ENC Division 1A table by a point from Georgia after wins over Portugal and Spain, and are unbeaten in seven matches against the Bears.
A big win for the Oaks, combined with a defeat for 15th-placed Georgia against Spain in Madrid, would see the RWC 2015 qualifiers swap places in the rankings. It is also possible for Spain to break into the top 20 – a position they last held in November 2013 – with victory over Georgia.
Portugal would replace Namibia in 22nd if they inflict a third straight defeat on newly-promoted Germany, who go into the match ranked six places below their Iberian opponents.
Moldova have enjoyed a strong start to their ENC Division 1B campaign and will be fancied to make it four wins from four against second-from-bottom the Netherlands. If the form book holds true, and they win well, Moldova will be rewarded with 1.32 rankings points – and a three-place rise in the table to 25th, putting them above a losing Germany and relegating Zimbabwe, Hong Kong and Belgium two places in the process.