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Why Boks are 'safe' at No.1

SPOTLIGHT: South Africa’s position at the top of the World Rugby rankings will be safe for a while.

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However, Ireland can make some serious inroads into their 3.97-point advantage with a win in Marseille on Friday.

Ireland take on France in the Mediterranean port city with both teams hoping to put the disappointment of their World Cup 2023 quarterfinal exits behind them.

Andy Farrell’s team go there as defending Six Nations champions and a first win over Les Bleus in France since 2018 would take them one step closer to becoming the only team to win back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations era.

A win would also narrow the gap between themselves and the Springboks to just 2.43 points, if the scoreline is sufficiently one-sided.

France, meanwhile, can only improve on fourth place if they win by more than 15 points, with a victory by this margin taking them above Ireland.

Saturday’s matches also have a lot riding on them with Italy’s game against England in Rome first up.

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A shock maiden win for the Azzurri in 31 attempts against England would see them climb into the world’s top 10 for the first time since March 2013.

If combined with a rare win for Scotland against Wales in Cardiff, England will lose fifth place to their rivals from north of the border.

With only marginal gains on offer for an England win in Rome, Steve Borthwick’s team cannot improve on fifth place. However, if Ireland win big in Marseille and they do the same the next day in Rome, just three-tenths of a point will separate them from France, who they meet in Lyon in the final match of the Championship.

Which takes us onto Wales’ game against Scotland at the Principality Stadium, a venue where Scotland haven’t won since 2002.

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Scotland enjoyed a record 35-7 win over Wales in last year’s Championship and a similar scoreline would be worth 1.55 points to Gregor Townsend’s team. Depending on the result in Rome, that may or may not be sufficient for them to move back to fifth, their position leading into RWC 2023.

Wales will move above Argentina and into seventh place in victory but need to win by more than 15 points to climb above Scotland as well.

(Continue below …)

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New era beckons in Rugby Europe Championship

Neither of last year’s Rugby Europe Championship finalists can pick up any points this weekend as both the champions Georgia and runners-up Portugal are away to sides with a much lower rating than them in Germany and Belgium.

Georgia and Portugal, who both have new head coaches in Richard Cockerill and Daniel Hourcade, will lose at least two places if they suffer shock defeats, while Germany and Belgium stand to gain at least two places in victory regardless of other results.

Spain can replace Romania in 19th if they beat the Netherlands, depending on the margin and the outcome of the Oaks’ match away to Poland.

Like Georgia and Portugal, Spain and Romania enter the Rugby Europe Championship with new men at the helm in Pablo Bouza and David Gérard.

If Romania kick off Gérard’s tenure with a win by more than 15 points and Los Leones fail to match or improve on that margin, the status quo will remain the same.

Victory over Spain in their first test in 10 months would lift the Netherlands up one place to 26th with Switzerland the team to drop down.

A second Rugby Europe Championship win for Poland would see them move up one place to 32nd, and another to 31st if Germany are beaten at home by Georgia.

Meanwhile, in north Paris, Algeria meet Senegal on Saturday.

A third straight win for Algeria (75th) over their higher-ranked opponents would see a big swing (by as many as 14 places) in the fortunes of both the teams.

Senegal, ranked 56th, cannot improve their position in victory as there is a maximum of 0.45 points on offer, which would still leave them behind Singapore above them.
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