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Ireland will enter the Rugby World Cup 2019 pool draw in the top band of seeds for the first time since they were based on the World Rugby Rankings following Saturday’s 13-9 win over England in the final match of the RBS Six Nations 2017.
By ending England’s bid for back-to-back Grand Slams and a world record 19th consecutive test victories, Ireland cemented their fourth place in the rankings, ensuring they are in the same band as New Zealand, England and Australia for the draw.
The RWC 2019 draw bands for the 12 directly qualified teams are as follows:
Band 1: New Zealand, England, Australia, Ireland
Band 2: Scotland, France, South Africa, Wales
Band 3: Argentina, Japan, Georgia, Italy
The seeding process has used the rankings since Rugby World Cup 2011 in New Zealand. At the time of the draws for RWC 2011 and RWC 2015 tournaments, Ireland had a ranking of eighth and sixth respectively, putting them in the second band.
Had Ireland lost to England and Wales beaten France, as they so nearly did in Paris, that would have been the case again when the pool draw for RWC 2019 takes place in Kyoto, Japan, on 10 May.
However, France’s last-gasp victory in the preceding match made the result in Dublin immaterial from a rankings perspective, not that you could tell from a fired-up Ireland side hell-bent on spoiling England’s party and having another celebration a day after St. Patrick's Day.
Ireland out-played England and deservedly took the spoils after scoring the only try through second-row Iain Henderson.
The win over England earned Ireland 1.48 rating points to take them on to 84.66 – 1.69 behind third-placed Australia and nearly two-and-a-half more than Scotland who ensured head coach Vern Cotter signed off in style with a 29-0 win over Italy.
Gregor Townsend has some big shoes to fill when he officially takes over from Cotter in June, the New Zealander's final win ratio in charge of Scotland was 53 per cent – the best by any Scotland coach, including World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Sir Ian McGeechan.
Townsend inherits a Scotland side that endured fluctuating fortunes over the course of the Six Nations but ultimately managed to hang on to their best-ever position of fifth in the rankings.
France gained 0.79 of a point and two places to move up to sixth in the rankings and third in the Six Nations table, swapping places with heartbroken Wales, who had victory snatched away from them when Damien Chouly crashed over in the 20th minute of added time and Camille Lopez slotted the conversion for a 20-18 win at the Stade de France.
Georgia’s long unbeaten run in the Rugby Europe Championship came to an end in Bucharest on Sunday after they fell to an 8-7 defeat against traditional rivals Romania.
A swirling wind inside the Stadionul National Arcul de Triumf made for difficult kicking conditions, even for such reliable marksmen as Florin Vlaicu and Merab Kvirikashvili, and points went begging from the tee.
Romania raced into a third-minute lead when Catalin Fercu crossed the line, and it looked as those would be the only points of the half until Lelos centre Merab Sharikadze scored a converted try on the stroke of half-time.
The Oaks edged in front when Vlaicu finally found his range and kicked a 53rd-minute penalty. Kvirikashvili then spurned two chances to snatch victory and Romania held on to win the title. Both sides finished with 19 points, but Romania's win proved decisive as they won the title on the head-to-head rule.
In becoming the first side to beat Georgia at this level for seven years, Romania picked up 1.22 rating points to move to within two hundredths of Italy in 15th place. Defeat cost Georgia the chance of matching their best-ever ranking of 11th.
While Romania have won the Rugby Europe Championship title, no RWC 2019 qualification points were at stake in the match against the Lelos.
Results from the Rugby Europe Championship over this year and next – other than those against already qualified Georgia – count towards the RWC 2019 regional qualification process, and at the halfway stage Romania only have a two-point advantage over Spain as teams battle it out to make it to Japan as the Europe 1 qualifier.
Spain kept the pressure on Romania with a 30-0 win over Belgium in sunny Madrid, tries from Ignacio Villanueva, Fabien Perrin and Kalokalo Gavidi earning Los Leones a bonus-point win.
Belgium will be disappointed to be kept to nil, especially as Spain had to play the majority of the second half down to 14 men following a 43rd-minute red card to prop Jesus Moreno.
Neither team's ranking was affected by the result, with Spain still 18th and Belgium 27th.
Meanwhile, Russia confirmed their place in the world’s top 20 with a comprehensive 52-25 win over Germany in Sochi.
Russia owed their victory to a four-try salvo in the space of 11 minutes inside the final quarter of the match. Up until that point, the Bears had only led 26-20.
The defeat cost Germany 0.64 of a point and a one-place fall to 25th with Portugal the beneficiaries.
Elsewhere in Europe, the Netherlands’ inability to secure a bonus point in their 38-25 win over Switzerland in Amsterdam dashed any hopes they had of catching Portugal at the top of the Rugby Europe Trophy table.
The two sides shared six tries in a game where the visitors led for all bar five minutes of the first hour. Late tries from full-back Josh Gascoigne and winger Sep Visser sealed victory for the Dutch, who move up two places in the rankings to 29th at the expense of Chile and Brazil.
Trophy rivals Poland are also on the climb, rising two places to 32nd after a 15-3 win away to Moldova, who slip below Ukraine to 36th.
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