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In the grand scheme of things rating points would ordinarily take a back seat to world record attempts and back-to-back Grand Slam bids, but for France and Wales the result of their match on Saturday, a couple of hours before England go for glory against Ireland in Dublin, will be of the utmost importance given the proximity of the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw.
Wales’ stirring 22-9 victory over Ireland has put them virtually one rating point behind Ireland (1.02) in the World Rugby Rankings, knowing that victory in Paris could potentially result in them moving into the world’s top four – and the first band of seeds for the RWC 2019 draw on 10 May – if Ireland lose points against England in Dublin.
For France, victory will guarantee them their place in the top eight and a place in the second bands of seeds. Les Bleus picked up 0.64 of a rating point for their 40-18 win over Italy in Rome to extend their points cushion over ninth-placed Argentina to 1.3 points.
Italy have now lost 10 in a row in Rome and a further loss of rating points has seen them slip one place in the rankings to 15th with Samoa the beneficiaries.
England’s record-equalling 18th straight win against Scotland, thanks to a man-of-the-match display from hat-trick hero Jonathan Joseph, did not come with any form of rankings reward as a consequence of the 8.84 rating point difference between the sides, before home weighting is taken into account. They remain in second place on 91.02 points – 3.76 behind the All Blacks, who were quick to congratulate England on their Six Nations title via head coach Steve Hansen.
Scotland did not lose any points despite coming out on the wrong side of a 61-21 scoreline, meaning they hang on to fifth place – but only just. Scotland are now on 82.18 points, just two hundredths above Wales, whose own win over Ireland has taken them above South Africa, who drop to their seventh and their lowest position since the rankings were introduced in October 2003.
While England continue to push back the boundaries In the Six Nations, it is Spain who have caught the eye in the Rugby Europe Championship.
Saturday’s impressive 32-15 win against Germany in Cologne has lifted them to a joint-best position of 18th in the rankings, a rise of three places, and they are now third in the Championship table overall.
Defending champions Georgia continue to lead the way after a 28-14 victory over Russia in front of 52,000 spectators in Tbilisi on Sunday. Scrum-half Vasil Lobzhanidze enhanced his glowing reputation with a try in each half, while Georgia’s other tries came from centre Giorgi Koshadze and David Kacharava, who is now just two caps away from emulating team-mate Merab Kvirikashvili in reaching a century of test appearances. Kvirikashvili converted all four tries, while opposite number Yury Kushnarev improved both of Russia’s, scored by fly-half Ramil Gaisin and replacement forward Bogdan Fedotko.
While Georgia remain in 12th place in the rankings, Russia slip one to 20th by virtue of Spain’s climb.
Spain produced a superb first-half performance to lead Germany 29-3 at the break, scoring four tries through their exciting backs. Full-back Brad Linklater dotted down first and was followed over the line by Federico Algorriz, Jordi Jorba and Guillaume Rouet.
Los Leones could only add three more points through the boot of Linklater in a more evenly-contested second half, which brought tries for Germany through impressive flanker Jacobus Otto and second-row Eric Marks. The defeat cost Germany 1.93 points and a two-place fall to 24th.
Two tries on debut for Jack Cobden and 13 points and a man-of-the-match performance from Florin Vlaicu, on the occasion of his 100th cap, helped Romania to a 33-17 over Belgium in Brussels.
As we approach the halfway stage of the Championship, the Oaks continue to lead the race to secure the Europe 1 qualification place for Rugby World Cup 2019 as the best ranked team other than Georgia.
Lynn Howells’ side are now on 14 points, four behind the Lelos who they face in Sunday's title decider, while Spain and Germany are on eight points apiece. Results from this year’s competition and 2018, other than those against Georgia, count towards the qualification process.
Portugal, meanwhile, stretched their lead over the Netherlands at the top of the Rugby Europe Trophy to nine points with a 59-0 win over Moldova. In the hour he was on the field, fly-half Nuno Costa scored two tries and kicked four conversions for Os Lobos.
The other Trophy game ended in a similarly one-sided scoreline, with Switzerland beating Ukraine 54-18. Fly-half Julien Gros and full-back Thibault Gery starred with a brace of tries apiece in a victory that lifts the Swiss above the Czech Republic and into 32nd place in the rankings.
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