After one of the biggest shocks in a major international competition, a clean sweep of away wins in the Guinness Men’s Six Nations and a series of games that left spectators on the edge of their seats, it’s fair to say test rugby returned with a bang last weekend.
Belgium’s 10-6 win over Portugal in the first round of the Men’s Rugby Europe Championship was unprecedented in its scale. Never before in the 21-year history of the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini has one team beaten another in the top 30 when there has been such a big gap between them.
Fresh from their exciting exploits at Rugby World Cup 2023, Portugal went into the game in Mons ranked at an all-time high of 13th. However, the Black Devils tore up the script and ignored the 16 places and 18.20 points between the teams to register the biggest win in Belgian rugby history.
To put it into context, there was a 12.97-point and 10-place differential between Japan and South Africa when the Springboks had their colours lowered in Brighton at RWC 2015.
And for their win over Fiji at RWC 2023, their first in eight attempts at a Rugby World Cup, Portugal only had to overcome an opponent 12.38 points and eight places better off than them.
Algeria's win over Zimbabwe in the Africa Cup 2022 and Brazil's historic victory over USA in the 2016 Americas Rugby Championship had bigger points differentials than the Belgium upset, but those matches involved teams much longer down the rankings.
🇧🇪v 🇵🇹Votes are in! We'll be doing it all over again tomorrow evening at 8pm for the full replay of Belgium v Portugal.— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) February 7, 2024
In the meantime, here is a heroic defensive passage of play by the Belgium charges. #REC24 pic.twitter.com/5uihymZdv2
So, can we expect more of the same this weekend?
Numerically, an away win for Poland against Portugal would be a marginally bigger shock than Belgium’s win as there are 19.24 points and 17 places separating the sides, while give or take the odd decimal place, wins on the road for Italy and the Netherlands, against Ireland and Georgia respectively, would be pretty much comparable to the outcome in Mons.
It is 27 years since Italy last beat Ireland in Dublin and given the way Ireland started the Championship with a record score and a bonus-point win against France, not too many people would expect that run to come to an end.
However, should the Azzurri pull off the most unexpected of victories, or even come away with a draw, they would return to the world’s top 10 for the first time in just over a decade.
Ireland start the weekend in second place and are guaranteed to remain there as long as Italy don’t win by more than 15 points, in which case they’d drop below New Zealand and into third.
An Ireland win would not see them make further inroads into South Africa’s advantage at the top of the rankings. Ireland closed the gap to 2.43 points after their 38-17 win over France in Lyon, but they will not gain anything this weekend due to the 16.52 rating point gap between the nations before home weighting is factored in.
What about the rest of the permutations?
It is not possible for France to climb any higher than fourth this weekend, even with a comprehensive win over Scotland, as they are too far behind New Zealand in third.
However, France will be replaced in fourth by England if they lose and England beat Wales at Twickenham.
If Scotland win and England fail to beat Wales, Gregor Townsend’s side will move up to fifth at England’s expense.
An historic high of fourth is possible for Scotland if they win by more than 15 points and England fail to win.
Any margin of victory for Wales at Twickenham, a venue where they have not won since 2015, is guaranteed to lift them above Argentina and into seventh place.
Ran closer than they would have liked by Germany last weekend, Georgia will be looking to step up their performance in front of their own fans in Tbilisi.
Richard Cockerill’s first home match in charge is against the Netherlands, who were one missed kick away from beating Spain in round one.
Georgia did not pick up any additional points for their 28-17 win over Germany and the same will apply this weekend if they start their Rugby Europe Championship title defence with back-to-back victories.
Like Portugal were last week, Georgia are 16 places above their opponents and the points differential is only marginally lower.
A shock win for the Dutch, combined with a Portugal victory against Poland in Lisbon, would send the Lelos tumbling three places to 16th. This would enable Os Lobos to regain one of the three places they lost after defeat to Belgium last weekend.
Portugal cannot climb without a Georgian defeat as they are unable to improve their rating as a result of the 19.36 points difference between them and Poland before home weighting is factored in.
If the Netherlands can beat Georgia they will reclaim the two places they lost last weekend in defeat to Spain, with a four-place rise possible if the margin is more than 15 points and Belgium don’t win in Romania.
It is not possible for Spain to improve on 19th place this weekend as they are playing Germany, a side 11 points and 13 places lower than them.
However, Romania will reclaim that spot off them a week after relinquishing it if they beat Belgium in Bucharest and Los Leones fail to back up last weekend’s narrow 20-18 victory over the Netherlands with another win.
Spain can only drop out of the world’s top 20 if they lose by more than 15 points, a scenario which could see them fall four to 23rd.
A defeat by more than 15 points against Belgium will see Romania crash out of the top 20 for the first time since the rankings began in October 2003.
Another heroic win for Belgium would see them move up another place to 25th having gained three places thanks to their 10-6 win over Portugal last weekend.
Poland can climb into the world’s top 30 if they beat Portugal by more than 15 points and Germany don’t match that margin. Otherwise, they will climb two places to 31st.
A win by more than 15 points for Poland would also see Portugal drop another place, slipping below USA into 17th.