Four fixtures remain in Rugby Europe Championship 2021 with the first of them taking place in Amsterdam this weekend as the Netherlands take on Russia.
While Georgia have long since wrapped up the title, there are still precious points to play for as results from this year’s competition and next count towards qualification for Rugby World Cup 2023.
Here’s a reminder of what has happened and what’s in store …
📈 | Here is the current table for the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 after Portugal's win today. pic.twitter.com/zc5exxiFvW— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) July 17, 2021
What is the current state of play?
Champions Georgia and second-place Portugal have finished their campaigns for this year while the remainder are all playing catch-up.
The Lelos’ 14th Rugby Europe Championship title was secured back in June when they defeated the Netherlands 48-15 to establish an unassailable lead at the top of the table.
Georgia only missed out on two bonus points to finish with 23 points out of a possible 25.
Portugal accrued 14 points from their five matches to sit second and are on course to match their highest position since finishing runners-up to the Oaks in 2004.
A bonus-point win in their only outstanding fixture against the newly-promoted Netherlands in a fortnight’s time would see third-place Romania draw level on points with Os Lobos.
Russia and Spain have both played three games apiece and are on four and two points, respectively, while the Netherlands prop up the table without any points to their name.
As the Netherlands’ return to the Rugby Europe Championship was only confirmed following a play-off win over Belgium at the end of May, they are not even halfway through their fixtures.
Two games into their first campaign at this level in 19 years and they are still waiting to open their account after losing to Georgia (48-15) and Portugal (61-28).
After facing Russia and Romania on consecutive weekends, Zane Gardiner’s side have a month-long break before concluding their season with a match against Spain in Amsterdam a week before Christmas.
Saturday 6 November: Netherlands v Russia
Saturday 13 November: Romania v Netherlands
Sunday 14 November: Spain v Russia
Saturday 18 December: Netherlands v Spain
🇵🇹 The first player to score more than three tries in a test for @PortugalRugby— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) July 13, 2021
A five s̶t̶a̶r̶ try performance from Raffaele Storti in the latest round of the @rugby_europe Championship ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/PP9eaVGddG
Any standout performances?
Portugal’s renaissance under Patrice Lagisquet has been one of the eye-catching features of this year’s competition.
The youthful enthusiasm of the team as an attacking force is clear for all to see with Os Lobos outscoring champions Georgia 196 points to 153 and 25 tries to 22.
Five of those tries were scored in the 61-28 win over the Netherlands by winger Raffaele Storti, a star of Portugal’s U20 team.
Portugal last qualified for the Rugby World Cup in 2007 and a return to France 16 years later looks a distinct possibility if they can maintain the momentum from 2021 into next season.
Another superb individual milestone was achieved earlier in the competition when Romanian legend Florin Vlaicu became only the seventh man in the history of test rugby – and the first from a less-established nation – to score 1,000 points during his side's game
Are teams involved in any other November internationals?
Building on their historic tour to South Africa, Georgia have a couple of key fixtures coming up against France in Bordeaux on 14 November and against Fiji in Aranjuez in Spain on 20 November.
Portugal also have two important games in November to keep them sharp before the final push for RWC 2023 qualification gets underway next year. Canada are first up in Lisbon this weekend and then Os Lobos take on Japan for the first time in history the following Saturday in Coimbra.
Spain will have taken huge encouragement from their narrow 13-11 home defeat to Italy A last weekend as they prepare to take on Fiji in Madrid this weekend prior to their remaining Rugby Europe Championship 2021 fixtures against Russia and the Netherlands.
Spain and Fiji have only met once before, the Pacific Islanders winning 39-20 in L’Aquila in 1999.
Meanwhile, Romania have games against Uruguay and Tonga to look forward to either side of their Rugby Europe Championship encounter with the Netherlands.
Russia complete their Rugby Europe Championship commitments before embarking on a mini-series against Chile in Sochi at the end of the month.
How does Rugby World Cup 2023 qualification work?
Based on results in the 2021 and 2022 Rugby Europe Championships, the top two teams will qualify for Rugby World Cup 2023, as Europe 1 and 2. The third-placed team will enter the Final Qualification Tournament.
The prize awaiting Europe 1 is a place in Pool C alongside Wales, Australia and Fiji and the Final Qualifier Winner, while Europe 2 will join South Africa, Ireland, Scotland and Asia/Pacific 1 in Pool B.
Which of the teams has the proudest Rugby World Cup record?
None of the teams involved have ever got beyond the pool stages of a Rugby World Cup.
But Romania have the longest association with the competition having appeared in the first eight editions. Their ever-present record came to an end when they failed to qualify for Japan 2019.
Georgia have competed at every Rugby World Cup since making their debut in Australia in 2003 and with five tournament wins are just one behind Romania from three fewer tournaments.
At England 2015, Georgia defeated Tonga and Namibia to finish third in their pool and automatically qualify for the next tournament in Japan.
Russia have appeared at a Rugby World Cup twice, in New Zealand in 2011 and Japan in 2019, while Spain and Portugal have just one tournament appearance apiece.
The Netherlands have never appeared on the game’s highest stage before.
Who historically dominates the Rugby Europe Championship?
Georgia have taken 15 of the titles on offer since 2000, nine of them by way of a ‘Grand Slam’.
Georgia have produced a clean sweep of wins in each of the last four seasons and are on a 20-game winning run dating back to an 8-7 defeat at the hands of Romania in March 2017. They have never lost at home since the competition took on its current format.
Romania won the first title of the new millennium and have hoisted the trophy aloft four times since, in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2017. Portugal (in 2003) are the only other team to win the title.
What is the background to the Rugby Europe Championship?
The competition has been known by a variety of different names since the International Amateur Rugby Federation (FIRA) was first formed in the 1930s.
In the early years, the competition was called the FIRA Nations Cup before morphing into the European Nations Cup Division 1A in 2000. From September 2016, the division was rebranded the Rugby Europe Championship.
It is the top of the Rugby Europe pyramid of men’s international 15s competitions, followed by the Trophy, Conference 1 North and South and Conference 2 North and South.