For the first time in history, the Six Nations begins with its teams occupying the top two positions in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini.

Ireland hold a slender 0.62 rating point advantage over France but all that could change this weekend with both in action, away to Wales and Italy respectively.

In fact, it is possible for three different teams to be ranked at number one, with New Zealand poised to reclaim top spot if both of the teams above them slip up against lower-ranked teams.

World champions South Africa would also climb to second place in this scenario.

Ireland’s encounter against Wales in Cardiff is the first match of the opening round of the 2023 Six Nations and Andy Farrell’s men go into it knowing that if they win they are guaranteed to stay at number one.

With no rating points are available to them in Rome due to the difference between the teams, France cannot catch them in victory. But if Ireland are beaten, as has been the way in recent times in the Six Nations in Cardiff, France would only need to draw to replace them as number one.

However, the simplest way that France can return to top spot – a position they have occupied once before, for a solitary week in July 2022 – is if they win and Ireland draw or lose in Cardiff.

Defeat for Ireland could see them drop as low as fourth but this is dependent on the scoreline in Cardiff and also in Rome.

Neither Ireland or France can drop out of the top four though, as England, in fifth, are currently too far adrift to make any progress up the rankings.

Meanwhile, Wales must beat Ireland by more than 15 points to climb above Argentina into eighth. If they do – and Scotland lose by the same margin to England – then Wales will assume seventh spot.

Borthwick era begins

England take on Scotland in the second of Saturday’s matches with new head coach Steve Borthwick hoping to emulate his predecessors in the job, Stuart Lancaster and Eddie Jones, and get off to a winning start against the Scots.

Scotland famously won on their last visit to Twickenham in the 2021 Six Nations and have a decent record on the opening weekend of late, winning four of their last six round one matches, whereas England have lost their last three.

A second consecutive win at English rugby’s headquarters would see Gregor Townsend’s team become the higher-ranked of the two, in fifth, which would equal their highest-ever position in the rankings. Scotland were last in that position in May 2018.

Scotland could send England down as low as seventh, below Australia, if they win handsomely but recent matches between the teams have been close-fought affairs.

Italy enter a Six Nations with more confidence than for quite some time following their fifth round win over Wales in last year’s Six Nations and a first-ever victory against Australia in the Autumn Nations Series.

If that forward momentum under Kieran Crowley can be maintained with a surprise win over France, a place in the top 10 of the rankings will be theirs. The Azzurri haven’t been that high since May 2013.

The Azzurri start the weekend in 12th but would leapfrog Samoa and Japan in victory. Ninth is possible if the Azzurri win by more than 15 points and Wales lose by the same margin.

Underdogs on the road

With all four matches in the opening round of the Rugby Europe Championship 2023 featuring higher-ranked teams at home, it would take a shock result for there to be any impact on the rankings.

Neither Georgia, Romania, Spain nor Portugal can improve their rating because of the sizeable difference between their tally and that of their opponents before home advantage is even taken into consideration.

Germany, Poland, Belgium and the Netherlands are the teams tasked with defying most pre-match predictions and winning away this weekend.

A debut win for Poland in their opening match in the Rugby Europe Championship would see them climb at least two places, above Switzerland and the Netherlands – providing the Dutch don’t pull off a shock win away to Spain, in which case Poland would only move up one position.

The Dutch could climb as high as 26th if their winning margin is by more than 15 points and Belgium don’t upset Portugal.

Belgium need to win by more than 15 points in Mike Ford’s first game in charge to improve their position.

Germany would climb three places to 28th if they can become the first team to beat the Lelos at home in the competition in 19 years.

Should that happen, or the game ends in a draw, Fiji will move above Georgia into 13th place.

Defeat could send Spain and Portugal down as low as 20th, the position currently occupied by Romania. Romania cannot fall any lower than that though, even if they lose to Poland in Bucharest.