The upcoming RBS 6 Nations 2017 will be the final opportunity for teams to make all-important changes to their World Rugby Rankings, which will be used as the basis for the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw in May.
The 12 directly qualified teams will be seeded into three bands of four teams based on the World Rugby Rankings as of 10 May, 2017. Currently, two of the Six Nations sides, England (second) and Ireland (fourth), are positioned in the top band with Wales (fifth), Scotland (seventh) and France (eighth) in the second band. The other Six Nations team to have qualified automatically for RWC 2019, Italy, are currently occupying 13th position.
Rankings are calculated using a points-exchange system, in which sides take points off each other based on the match result. Whatever one side gains, the other loses. The exchanges are based on the match result, the relative strength of each team, and the margin of victory, while there is also an allowance for home advantage.
That means teams not playing in the Six Nations may still gain or lose places in the rankings depending on results of others near them on the ladder. For example, Argentina are currently placed ninth but they could still reach the RWC 2019 pool draw inside the top eight depending on how France, Scotland or even Wales fare during the Six Nations.
Equally, Ireland are in fourth spot and sitting pretty for a place in the top band but they will need a strong Six Nations campaign to maintain their lofty position. The rankings are updated every Monday at midday (GMT).
Rugby World Cup 2019 will comprise 20 teams allocated into four pools: The 12 teams that directly qualified from RWC 2015 in England plus eight teams that will come through the global qualifying process which kicked off in St Vincent and the Grenadines in March 2016.
The direct qualifiers are: RWC 2015 winners New Zealand, runners-up Australia, losing semi-finalists South Africa and Argentina, losing quarter-finalists Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France plus England, Japan, Georgia and Italy, who finished third in their respective pools.
Like the past four Rugby World Cups, there will be four pools of five teams. The eight places available through the qualifying process will be banded according to strength and known as bands four and five. These will also be drawn randomly across the pools.
The 12 directly qualified teams will be allocated into the top three bands as follows:
Band 1: The four highest-ranked directly qualified teams (1-4 in World Rugby Rankings)
Band 2: The next four highest-ranked directly qualified teams (5-8 in World Rugby Rankings)
Band 3: The final four directly qualified teams
The eight qualifying places will be allocated into the other two bands.
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The process will be independently audited and at a ceremony in Kyoto, Japan on 10 May, the teams will be randomly drawn by band into the four pools that will comprise rugby's showcase event in 2019. Shortly after the pool draw, the match schedule will be finalised and the ticketing programme launched.