Romania host winless Netherlands in Bucharest on Saturday hoping to secure the victory that would lift them into the top three, while Russia visit Madrid on Sunday to take on Spain.
Georgia were crowned champions for a fourth successive year in June when they beat the Netherlands to complete a clean sweep.
However, points amassed in this year’s Rugby Europe Championship and the 2022 tournament count towards qualification for RWC 2023, meaning there is still plenty to play for.
The teams that finish inside the top two of the combined 2021 and 2022 table will both book their place at the quadrennial tournament in France, while whoever comes third will retain a hope of securing their place at RWC 2023 via the Final Qualification Tournament.
Romania out to show they’re back
Following a disappointing 2020, in which the Oaks lost three of their four matches, Andy Robinson’s Romania look resurgent ahead of the visit of Netherlands to the Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf.
An encouraging performance against Argentina in July was followed last weekend by an impressive 29-14 defeat of in-form Uruguay in Italy.
It means Romania head into Saturday’s match in an upbeat mood as they go in search of the bonus-point win that would put them level on points with second-placed Portugal.
“It was a very good game because Uruguay is a team that has already qualified for the World Cup. So, we were happy to play against a team that's there and it's really a boost of confidence to know we can win against them,” Romania second-row Adrian Motoc told World Rugby.
“Now we play against the Netherlands. So, we just switched off [from the Uruguay match] really fast and that's why I'm happy with the guys because we won, we're happy but now we're just focused on the next game.”
Motoc warned his team-mates against complacency as he said that “the most dangerous thing about this game is us taking them easy”.
But the 25-year-old is keen to prove that the Oaks have turned a corner following a difficult couple of years on the pitch that included missing out on qualification for RWC 2019 in Japan.
“That's why we're even more motivated to go back to the World Cup to show the world that our place is still there,” he added.
“Now we're back on track and we hope to show everyone else that.”
Russia face tough test in Spain
Ahead of the weekend’s matches, Russia sit above Romania in third on points difference having won two and lost two of their Rugby Europe Championship 2021 matches.
The most recent of those was a 35-8 defeat of the Netherlands in Amsterdam last Saturday and Lyn Jones’ side have arrived in Spain looking to consolidate their place in the top three.
Spain have lost each of their three matches in this year’s tournament, narrowly against Georgia and Romania before a surprise 43-28 defeat at the hands of Portugal.
Since those matches in March, Los Leones have run Italy A close and led Fiji at half-time in Madrid last weekend before going on to lose 43-13.
Russia have not beaten Spain since 2015, while they have lost on their last three visits to Madrid, and flanker Vitaly Zhivatov knows his side cannot afford to take their hosts lightly regardless of recent form in the continental tournament.
“Spain is a strong side. Russia didn't beat them the last five years and to come with the confidence after the win against Netherlands is good,” Zhivatov said.
“But we all understand that Spain is a very strong side. Also, they had two very good tests before our game against Italy A and Fiji, and they’re going to be a very difficult game for us.”
Zhivatov insists it is too early to start thinking about Rugby World Cup qualification, but having experienced RWC 2019 he is keen to return to the showpiece tournament.
“That was very amazing,” he added. “It's an unbelievable tournament, and definitely I can just advise the people who never played there that you're like in a fairy tale [playing at Rugby World Cup].
“Really everyone enjoyed that experience.”