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World Rankings: England to break into top four?

SPOTLIGHT: World Rugby has released the ranking permutations ahead of this weekend’s final round of matches in the Six Nations and the Rugby Europe Men’s Championship.

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If Ireland draw or beat Scotland in the penultimate game of the Championship, it’s simple: the Six Nations title is theirs for a second year.

Intriguingly, all the participating teams in the Six Nations could end the weekend positioned one after another – with only Argentina spoiling the sequence – in the rankings.

That said, Ireland’s position as the next best team behind world champions South Africa is in jeopardy if they fail to bounce back from their Twickenham defeat with a title-clinching victory against Scotland in Dublin, a venue where they very rarely lose, certainly not to Scotland.

While the title’s destiny would still depend on what Ireland gets out of the game in defeat, it is clear what will happen to them in the rankings if they don’t win: they would find themselves replaced in second spot by New Zealand.

To suffer back-to-back defeats in the Six Nations for the first time since the opening two rounds of the 2021 Championship would be some fall from grace for a team that has been in the top two in the rankings for 20 months, bar two weeks during last year’s World Cup.

While fairly unimaginable, a heavy defeat by more than 15 points for Ireland combined with a win for France over England would see Ireland drop to fourth, with Les Bleus moving up to third.

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Ireland, meanwhile, cannot improve their rating or position this weekend due to the 7.87 points between themselves and Scotland before home weighting is factored in.

Having ended Ireland’s dreams of consecutive Grand Slams, England head to Lyon on a high. All three of their wins so far this year have been by narrow margins – ranging from one to three points – and another similarly hard-fought win will see them leapfrog France into fourth.

They will gain an additional place if Scotland win by more than 15 points and they match that margin. In such a scenario, France will fall to sixth, the lowest they’ve been since November 2021.

Fourth place would be a good marker for people to judge the progress made under Steve Borthwick as England haven’t been that high in the rankings since August 2022 and haven’t been above France since February 2022 – before Les Bleus started on the road to a first Grand Slam in 12 years.

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If France close out with a win in the latest edition of ‘Le Crunch’, it will not lead to them climbing the rankings as there is only a maximum of 0.91 rating points available and that would still leave them 1.58 points short of New Zealand.

For Italy, it could be another landmark weekend, while it is also possible for Scotland to match their record high of fifth.

Having moved above Australia in the rankings for the first time ever following last week’s famous win in Rome, the Azzurri have the chance to put another of the world’s established teams in their rear mirror.

Italy go to the Millennium Stadium for another wooden spoon decider with Wales knowing that a repeat of their 2022 victory, or even a draw, would see them remain above their opponents in the Six Nations standings and also climb above them in the rankings.

This has happened before – but only briefly and very infrequently. The last time Italy were above Wales was the week commencing 4 February, 2013, and that was for one week only. Before that, there were two week-long spells where Italy held the higher-ranked status.

So, all in all, Italy have historically been the higher-ranked of the two teams for a grand total of four weeks. Considering the rankings have been in existence since October 2003, it shows what an achievement it would be for Italy.

Italy will match their previous high of eighth – last achieved in August 2007 – if they avoid defeat against Wales in Cardiff, while relegating their hosts to ninth, possibly 10th, which is their current record low.

Wales can’t climb the rankings even if they break their duck and win for the first time in this year’s Championship as they would still trail Argentina by just over a rating point.

A beaten Italy will drop below Australia and return to 10th place.

In terms of the Rugby Europe Men’s Championship 2024, the main rankings news line is dependent on a reversal of last year’s final result.

Twelve months ago, Georgia comfortably beat Portugal 38-11 and the Lelos will not move any higher in the rankings if they are successful again, at the Stade Jean-Bouin in Paris on Sunday.

However, if Portugal become the first team to beat the Lelos in the Rugby Europe Championship since 2017, the prize awaiting them is not only their first trophy at this level for 21 years but also a record-equalling ranking of 13th.

In the bronze medal decider, Romania will climb above Spain and into 19th place if they repeat last year’s win over Los Leones.

Like Georgia and Spain, the Netherlands cannot climb the rankings this weekend but their opponents Germany and Belgium and Poland can all improve their position.

Relegation to the Rugby Europe Men’s Trophy 2024-25 is also at stake with teams awarded points based on their final rankings in both the 2023 and 2024 tournaments with the team with the lowest total dropping into the second tier.

Poland and Belgium, who meet in the seventh-place play-off, are the only teams in danger of relegation after collecting one and two points respectively in 2023 as the eighth and seventh-placed teams.

A repeat of the 17-18 defeat in this play-off 12 months ago will see Poland’s stay in the Championship a short one, but victory would leave both teams tied on three points and tie-breaker criteria required to split the team, starting with the team with the better ratio of win/loss in the head-to-head matches of the tied teams.

Whoever is relegated, they will likely play Croatia or Lithuania, who meet in Zagreb on Saturday in the only Rugby Europe Trophy 2023-24 fixture of the weekend.

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