What challenges will confront the Final Qualifier at Rugby World Cup 2023?
As four teams prepare to compete in Dubai for the 20th and final ticket to France next year, we take a look at what it would mean for Pool C.
With wins for New Zealand and Australia against Japan and Scotland setting the scene nicely last Saturday, this weekend there is an action-packed programme of men’s tests to look forward to.
Round Two of the Autumn Nations Series 2022 features no less than six games with five on Saturday and one on Sunday.
Meanwhile, over in Dubai, the Final Qualification Tournament for Rugby World Cup 2023 gets underway with Hong Kong, Kenya, Portugal and USA all vying for the one last ticket to next year’s tournament.
Other teams in and around them in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini will also take to the field in various venues around the globe as their preparations for the game’s showpiece event continue.
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In terms of where they are in the rankings and the fact they have been drawn together in Pool B at Rugby World Cup 2023, Ireland’s game against South Africa at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin has plenty riding on it.
Ireland’s status as the world’s best team is under threat from the reigning champions who, if they win, will take top spot off Andy Farrell’s team as well as bragging rights ahead of their 23 September meeting at the Stade de France in 2023.
With New Zealand also only able to improve their rating by a maximum of one point, Ireland are guaranteed to stay top of the rankings if they avoid defeat against South Africa.
Not many teams get a result at the Aviva Stadium – Ireland have won 30 of their last 32 matches there – and if they improve that record with another victory, their slender 0.62-point lead at the top over France will be extended.
France, who are second, cannot improve their rating with victory over Australia at the Stade de France due to the 7.33 rating points between the sides before home weighting is factored in.
A rare home defeat for Ireland could lead to them falling as low as fourth. For that to occur, they would have to be beaten by the Springboks by over 15 points or New Zealand beat Wales by the same margin if the margin of defeat for the Irish is less.
After an up-and-down year in which they reached their lowest-ever ranking of fifth not once but twice during the Rugby Championship, New Zealand will be looking to sign off 2022 on a high.
The All Blacks’ first assignment is against Wales this Saturday at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, where they haven’t lost since 1953.
The three-time Rugby World Cup champions enter the weekend fourth in the rankings but second place will be theirs if a win by more than 15 points is accompanied by a Springboks loss and a draw or defeat for France at home to the Wallabies.
Meanwhile, Wales will climb above a beaten Australia into sixth place if they can end a 69-year wait for victory over New Zealand.
However, they could drop two places to ninth if beaten, which is one off their all-time low, slipping below a defeated Argentina and Scotland if they manage to beat Fiji.
Australia kicked off their European tour with a 16-15 win over Scotland at Murrayfield, which led to a gain of three places in the rankings.
A second consecutive victory, away to a buoyant French side, may also be rewarded if the margin is sufficient and other results go their way.
Scotland will be looking to put the disappointment of losing to Australia by the narrowest of margins behind them when they take on Fiji, a team that has never beaten them at Murrayfield.
Given Scotland are well over five points and two places better off than Fiji in the rankings, only minimal gains are possible for Gregor Townsend’s team.
A maximum of 0.23 rating points is available for victory over Fiji, leaving them relying on other teams losing to improve their position of ninth
Fiji must win by more than 15 points to return to the top 10 for the first time since September 2019, with ninth place possible.
England and Argentina are the last of the leading nations to take to the field this weekend with their 10th meeting at Twickenham being played on Sunday.
England can only improve on fifth place if they beat Argentina by more than 15 points and New Zealand slip to defeat in Cardiff, a scenario which would see the sides swap places and condemn the All Blacks to their equal lowest position for the third time in the last three months.
It is possible for England to climb from fifth to third, but this would also require Australia to beat France by more than 15 points
Argentina will be the higher ranked of the two nations if they beat England by that margin with a climb of up to three places possible for Los Pumas depending on other results.
Italy will overtake Georgia and Samoa in the rankings and move to 12th place if they beat the latter by more than 15 points
Georgia cannot improve their rating with victory over Uruguay due to the 8.54 points difference between the two teams before home weighting is factored in.
With only a fraction over four points covering the sides ranked 15th to 20th, the weekend’s other matches could lead to plenty of movement
Spain sit at an all-time high of 15th but cannot climb any higher with victory over Tonga. In fact, they will surrender this place to Tonga if beaten in Malaga
Los Leones will drop a further place in defeat if Uruguay beat their hosts Georgia in Tbilisi, with Los Teros moving up two places to 16th
Romania can only improve their rating by a maximum of 0.29 rating with victory over fellow RWC 2023 qualifiers Chile, leaving them unable to climb above a beaten Spain or Tonga
Chile can enter the top 20 for the first time since the rankings were introduced in October 2003 if they beat Romania by more than 15 points, becoming the higher-ranked of the two nations
They could also climb above USA, the side they beat to the Americas 2 qualification spot for RWC 2023 if the Eagles lose with one of the matches having a margin of more than 15 points
In the RWC 2023 Final Qualification Tournament in Dubai, Portugal will replace USA in 19th if they beat Hong Kong, irrespective of how the Eagles fare in their opening match against lower-ranked Kenya. This is because the USA are unable to improve their rating in victory due to the 13.11 points difference between the two nations
Kenya stand to gain as many as five places if they win their first meeting with USA, while it is possible for Hong Kong to break into the top 20 for the first time if they upset Portugal.