Four days after Georgia became the 15th nation to confirm their presence at Rugby World Cup 2023, Spain could add their name to the list of participants in France next year.
Much depends on what happens in Bucharest the day before but if Romania lose or fail to get a bonus-point draw at home to Georgia, Los Leones will go into their derby match with Portugal on Sunday knowing that any form of win will be enough for them to qualify as Europe 2.
Victory at the Estadio Central de la Universidad Complutense would ensure Spain finish second in the combined Rugby Europe Championship 2021 and 2022 standings no matter the result of their final match against Georgia next Sunday when the destiny of the 2022 title could be on the line.
Spain currently lead the 2022 Championship standings with 13 points, two more than Georgia and Portugal – both awarded four competition points against Russia – with Romania fourth on eight points. The Netherlands are fifth with four points and Russia bottom with one
A first-ever Rugby Europe Championship title would be a tangible reward for the progress Spain have made in the last 12 months but, for now, all that matters is securing their place at a second Rugby World Cup.
Georgia top the RWC 2023 qualification table on 35 points – 10 clear of Spain who also have two games left to play. Portugal are level on 25 points with Spain but only have one game remaining. Romania, who are fourth on 22 points, are the only other team in the running for either Europe 2 or a place in the Final Qualification Tournament.
Los Leones’ only previous experience of a Rugby World Cup was at the 1999 tournament, and a return to the game’s biggest stage is long overdue.
Portugal would say the same, however, Os Lobos’ one and only previous Rugby World Cup appearance was in 2007 and they’ll need to win on Spanish soil for the first time since 2012 if they are to keep their hopes of automatic qualification alive.
Raffaele Storti, who has to be content with a place on the bench, says his team will not be encumbered by the big prize at stake.
"It’s not a problem for us to think about it. This extra pressure only gives us motivation. It is our goal to get there and on Sunday we’ll have to prove we are worthy of it," said the winger.
"Getting to the World Cup is everything we’ve been talking about for the last three years."
While away wins in this fixture have been few and far between for Portugal over the years, they did enjoy a convincing 43-28 victory the last time the sides met in the 2021 Championship.
"I think we need to be at our best in every aspect of the game, including defence," added Storti.
"In this campaign, sometimes, we gave away points too easily, especially in the last quarter of games. That’s an aspect we have worked on a lot this week and we’ll have to put it into practice this weekend.
This year portugal have drawn with Georgia (25-25), lost to Romania (37-27) and beaten the Netherlands (59-3). Spain, meanwhile, have won all three of their games: 43-0 v the Netherlands, 41-37 v Russia and 38-21 v Romania.
A record high of 15th in the rankings is possible for Portugal if they come away from Madrid with a big victory and the result 24 hours earlier has fallen the right way.
Spain have made just the one change to the XV that started the 43-0 win against the Netherlands, with Lucas Guillaume coming into the second row.
The most notable of the six changes to the Portuguese line-up is at scrum-half where first-choice goal-kicker Samuel Marques returns to the fold. Amongst the other changes, José Lima replaces Tomas Appleton at inside centre and also takes over the captaincy.
Georgia want to be No.1
Georgia coach Levan Maisashvili has made seven personnel and one positional change to the starting line-up that took to the field against the Netherlands a month ago. Centre Giorgi Kveseladze will make his first appearance in the 2022 Championship alongside captain Merab Sharikadze as part of the shake-up.
The Lelos need one point to secure Europe 1 qualification and a place in Pool C in France alongside Wales, Australia, Fiji and the Final Qualification Tournament winner.
Wednesday’s decision by the Rugby World Cup Board to abandon all outstanding matches involving Russia and award the teams affected four points meant that the Lelos were guaranteed qualification.
However, Georgia will want to go to France as the region’s top qualifier, while also defending the Rugby Europe Championship title that has been in their possession ever since the competition was rebranded in 2018.
Georgia haven’t lost in the Rugby Europe Championship for 22 matches dating back to their 8-7 defeat at the hands of Romania at the end of the 2017 Championship and will want that run to continue in what is the team’s 250th test.
Victory over Romania would also see them retain the Antim Cup for the sixth match in a row, while a win by a margin of more than 15 points would lift them above Samoa and into 12th in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.
Romania still in the running
Romania coach Andy Robinson has made seven personnel and one positional change to his starting line-up from the Spain loss a fortnight ago, including a first cap for prop Andrei Ursache in three years.
The Oaks should remain in contention for at least the Final Qualification Tournament even in defeat this weekend as they face the Netherlands in their final match, a nation who has lost all eight matches since their return to the Championship after a 19-year absence
Romania missed out on qualification for Rugby World Cup 2019 in Japan, ending their ever-present record in the competition’s history
In addition to the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 round four fixtures, games are also being played lower down the pyramid.
Belgium take on Switzerland in the Rugby Europe Trophy in the knowledge that a victory would see them climb above lowlands rivals, the Netherlands, in the standings.
In Conference 1 North, Luxembourg are up against Hungary in a game that also counts towards the rankings.
Where to watch the action
Rugby Europe Championship 2022, Round 4
Saturday 12 March
Romania v Georgia, KO 17:30 (local time), live on TVR (Romania), IMEDI and RugbyTV (Georgia), SportAll (France/Monaco), FloSports (USA and Canada), rugbyeurope. tv (English speaking)
Sunday 13 March
Spain v Portugal, KO 12:45 (local time), live on Teledeporte (Spain), RTP and Portugal RugbyTV (Portugal), SportAll (France/Monaco), FloSports (USA and Canada), rugbyeurope. tv (English speaking)
In addition to the REC games, the following games will be on rugbyeurope.tv :
Rugby Europe Trophy (Women’s)
Switzerland v Sweden, KO 13:00 (local time) – Women’s Trophy
Rugby Europe Trophy (Men’s)
Switzerland v Belgium, KO 15:30 (local time)
Rugby Europe Conference 1 North (Men’s)
Luxembourg v Hungary, KO 18:00 (local time)