We already know the identity of three of the teams who will compete in the Rugby World Cup 2021 quarter-finals on 29-30 October.

But the race to join England, Canada and hosts New Zealand could not be closer as the pool phase reaches its final round.

All nine remaining nations retain a chance of qualifying for the quarter-finals, while the seeding for the last eight will not be decided until the final match is completed on Sunday.

Following the end of the pool phase, the eight teams that have made the quarter-finals will be ranked from one to eight, with the pool winners seeded first to third, runners-up fourth to sixth and the two best third-placed teams seventh and eighth.

The top seed will then play the eighth seed in the quarter-finals, the second will face the seventh, third will take on sixth and the fourth will meet fifth.

With so much on the line in Whangārei and Auckland this weekend, we take a closer look at the permutations to see what the teams need to do to extend their stay on New Zealand’s North Island for at least one more week.

Which teams can finish pool phase as top seed?

Of the three teams to have booked their place in the quarter-finals ahead of the weekend, only New Zealand are mathematically guaranteed to finish top of their pool.

The Black Ferns cannot be caught by Australia or Wales in Pool A, regardless of their result against Scotland on Saturday, and also currently have the best record of the pool leaders – ahead of Canada on points difference.

Should the hosts beat Scotland with a bonus point then they are almost certain to head into the quarter-finals as top seeds.

To be overhauled in that scenario, Canada would have to beat the USA with a winning margin at least 23 points bigger than New Zealand’s while securing a bonus point.

If neither Canada nor the Black Ferns secure a bonus point victory in their respective matches, then that would open the door for England.

The Red Roses head into their match against South Africa with nine points, one adrift of Canada and New Zealand, but have a better points difference than both and therefore would need to beat the Springbok Women with a bonus point to have any chance of top-seed status.

France could also mathematically finish as top seeds, but they would need to beat Fiji with a bonus point and hope England, Canada and the Black Ferns all lose.

Who is in the running to finish as pool runners-up?

The equation is simple in the opening match of round three as Australia in second take on third-placed Wales in Pool A.

Whoever wins that match will secure the runners-up spot in the pool and their place in the quarter-finals.

Should France win and Italy or the USA do so with a bonus point, then the victor of the Australia-Wales match will head into the last eight as sixth seeds. The teams have met four times at three previous Rugby World Cups, with the Wallaroos winning on each of those occasions.

Saturday’s action at the Northland Events Centre in Whangārei concludes with the first ever meeting of France and Fiji in a women’s test match.

Both teams head into the contest with a shot at finishing second in Pool C. France will wrap that up if they avoid defeat, while a win should secure the fourth seeding for the quarter-finals thanks to their healthy points difference.

Fiji would also secure second with victory but would have to do so with a bonus point to have a realistic hope of finishing higher than sixth seed.

On Sunday, Pool B concludes, and it is more open heading into round three. Italy take on Japan at Waitakere Stadium and know that they must match or better the USA’s result against Canada to make sure of second.

If Italy and the USA end the pool phase tied on competition points, then the Azzurre will claim second on the head-to-head rule as they won the fixture between the teams on the opening weekend.

To advance as at least runners-up in Pool B, the USA need to better Italy’s result. Should the Azzurre beat Japan without a bonus point then the Women’s Eagles would leapfrog them if they beat Canada for the first time since 2019, while scoring four tries or more.

In that scenario on Sunday, the Canadians would need a bonus point to claim top spot in the pool.

Japan retain an outside chance of finishing second but must beat the Azzurre with a bonus point (and by at least 26 points) and hope the Women’s Eagles lose to Canada by a similar margin and also don’t collect a try-scoring bonus point.

If Japan, Italy and the USA finish the pool phase level on five competition points, then they would be separated by points difference.

Were either Italy or the USA to win on the weekend to seal second place in Pool B then they are likely to start the quarter-finals as fifth seeds.

Who else can still qualify for the quarter-finals?

All nine teams yet to claim a place in the quarter-finals remain in contention heading into round three and bonus points will be key this weekend.

In Pool A, Scotland must beat the Black Ferns to put themselves in contention while the loser of the match between Australia and Wales will hope to at least come away with a bonus point.

Likewise, Japan – the fourth-ranked team in Pool B – know they need to beat Italy with a bonus point to give themselves any chance. However, the USA and Italy only need a bonus point to make sure of finishing at least third.

South Africa, meanwhile, must beat England on Sunday and hope that Fiji lose to France without gaining a bonus point to finish third in Pool C.

If Fiji do earn a bonus point and both teams finish on five competition points, then the Rugby World Cup newcomers would finish third on the head-to-head rule after winning their match against South Africa.

Which teams might play each other in the quarter-finals?

There are some mouth-watering matches in the pipeline for the quarter-finals, which are scheduled to take place in Whangārei and Auckland between 29-30 October.

Should New Zealand secure top seeding for the last eight, then they could face the loser of the match between Australia and Wales. A trans-Tasman rematch would not be one to be missed.

We could also be treated to an England v Wales match in the quarter-finals, were Ioan Cunningham’s side to win their final pool match and the Red Roses qualify for the last eight as third seeds.

Canada, meanwhile, could also be set for a pool rematch, against either the USA or Italy. A second North American derby in as many weeks would be one to set pulses racing.

Should France get the win they need against Fiji, then they are likely to play the runners-up from Pool B in the quarter-finals. Italy would definitely be up for that one having beaten Les Bleues for the first time in three years in a warm-up match last month.

Whatever happens this weekend, though, fans at Northland Events Centre and Waitakere Stadium, as well as those watching on from across the globe, will be treated to some thrilling rugby.