The top two teams in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini collide in Dublin this Saturday in a match that could ultimately decide the destiny of the 2023 Six Nations title.
That was the case last year when Ireland’s Grand Slam hopes came unstuck in round two in Paris after a 30-24 defeat to Les Bleus.
While Ireland won all of their remaining games, so did France, and it was Fabien Galthié’s men that took the honours for the first time since 2010.
Sitting fractionally ahead of France in the rankings and with home advantage, Ireland start as slight favourites to end a run of three consecutive defeats against the reigning Six Nations champions.
If successful, Ireland will remain as the world’s number one team for at least another week but a draw would be enough for France to topple them.
Ireland can increase their cushion at the top of the rankings to as much as 2.58 points if they beat Les Bleus by more than 15 points. A smaller margin of victory would still leave them 1.95 points clear of France.
Given the close proximity to one another in the rankings and the fact that an average of just five points has separated the sides in the last three meetings, a draw is not out of the question.
In 101 previous fixtures between the teams, there have been seven draws with two of them happening in consecutive years, in 2012 and 2013. Another, on Saturday, would leave France 0.05 of a rating point better off than their rivals.
Ireland will remain second in defeat as long as the margin is no more than 15 points, in which case they would drop to fourth and be overtaken by New Zealand and South Africa with France then holding a 3.10-point lead at the top.
Scotland out to land unprecedented double
Of course, victory for either team at the Aviva Stadium comes with no guarantees of the title as the other teams are all still in the running, especially Scotland who also got off to a winning start against England in round one.
Scotland’s problem has been backing up wins on the opening weekend and they’ll be hoping to put that right at home to Wales.
Remarkably, Scotland have never started a Six Nations campaign with two victories and setting that unwanted record straight would be a real statement result from Gregor Townsend’s men.
In terms of the rankings though, it would not have too much effect as Scotland can’t move any higher than their current position of fifth due to South Africa having a sizeable points cushion over them.
Scotland would lose the two places they gained by retaining the Calcutta Cup if they are beaten and England overcome Italy at Twickenham in Sunday’s fixture. A draw would see them fall if England beat Italy by more than 15 points.
If Scotland and England both fail to win then Australia will climb above them into fifth.
Meanwhile, Wales cannot improve on ninth place unless they beat Scotland by more than 15 points, a scenario which would see Wales climb to seventh and Scotland dropping as low as ninth.
Sixth is within Wales’ grasp if they win by more than 15 points and England lose to improving Italy.
History-chasing Italy eye top 10
Having built on a positive set of results in 2022 with a fine performance against France in Rome last weekend, albeit in defeat, the Azzurri are looking up not down under head coach Kieran Crowley.
And a place in the top 10 of the rankings will be theirs for the first time in almost a decade if they can defeat England at the 30th attempt.
Twickenham is no longer the fortress it once was, with last week’s 29-23 defeat to Scotland the fourth time they have been beaten at home in the last 12 months (six matches).
England have only started a Six Nations with back-to-back defeats once, in 2005, when they were beaten 11-9 by Wales in Cardiff and 18-17 by France at Twickenham. And if that is repeated this weekend, it could see them slump to an all-time low of ninth in the rankings.
For that to happen, a Wales victory would have to be followed by an England defeat by more than 15 points.
The Azzurri cannot fall from 12th place in defeat as Georgia are unable to improve their rating with victory over the Netherlands in the Rugby Europe Championship due to the 22.07 rating points between the sides before home weighting is factored in.
Georgia will drop below Fiji into 14th though if they fail to win in Amsterdam.
The Netherlands can climb as many as three places if they beat Georgia by more than 15 points, depending on other results.
Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifiers Portugal can only climb the rankings if they beat Poland and Spain lose to Germany, a defeat which could see Los Leones drop up to four places to 20th.
Poland can climb as many as four places to 26th with victory over Portugal, depending on the margin and other results. Such an outcome could see Portugal drop to 20th.
Germany could gain as many as three places and climb to 28th as a result of beating Spain, who will remain 16th in victory.
Romania cannot fall from 20th with defeat against the lower-ranked Belgium, who need to win well to be in contention to overhaul Russia in 25th.