Third within England's grasp in rankings
England can once again break the southern hemisphere dominance of the top three positions in the IRB World Rankings when the RBS Six Nations kicks off on Saturday, albeit only with an emphatic victory over France.
A victory by more than 15 points at the Stade de France will lift England to third, just four hundredths of a rating point above Australia. If they win by a smaller margin, England will close to within four tenths of the Wallabies.
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IRB STATISTICAL MATCH PREVIEWS: WAL v ITA / FRA v ENG
Even if England fail to climb to third, Stuart Lancaster’s men could still hold a six-point cushion over the side below them – be that France or Wales – by the end of round one, strengthening their position as the leading northern hemisphere nation in the rankings.
England will retain that mantle even with an emphatic loss in ‘Le Crunch’, although their advantage over France would then be slashed to 1.27 points, a far cry from the 4.83 rating points they currently enjoy.
While England cannot fall in defeat, the same cannot be said for France, who could end the opening weekend of the Six Nations as low as seventh, depending on the margin of defeat and the results in Cardiff and Dublin.
Wales cannot improve their rating with victory over Italy at the Millennium Stadium in the opening match of the Championship, a consequence of being at home against a side ranked seven places lower in 13th.
The defending champions will climb to fifth with a victory and French defeat, but on the other hand they could drop another two places with a heavy loss to the Azzurri on home soil. Italy can climb two or three places with victory in Cardiff.
Seventh ranked Ireland can only improve their rating by just over six tenths with a victory by more than 15 points against Scotland, who sit two places below them, at the Aviva Stadium on Sunday.
They could though end the weekend in fifth if other results go their way, while Scotland will fall one place – swapping places with Argentina – with any margin of defeat.
RWC 2015 qualification resumes
The race to secure the Europe 1 and Europe 2 places at Rugby World Cup 2015 also enters the final straight this weekend with the resumption of the European Nations Cup Division 1A with Georgia and Romania currently occupied the coveted spots.
These two sides cannot improve their ratings with victories with Georgia to host Belgium – ranked 11 places below them in 27th – in Tbilisi and Romania welcoming the lower Portugal to Cluj on Saturday.
Portugal could still climb from their position of 22nd if they lose to Romania if Spain lose to their visitors Russia in the weekend’s other fixture. Spain will fall either one or two places, depending on the margin of defeat to the Bears.
A win would not result in a positional gain for Russia because even an emphatic victory would still leave them trailing 17th ranked USA by more than four rating points. However, a win is vital if they are to remain in the hunt to deny Georgia or Romania direct passage to RWC 2015.
Russia could slide as many as three places if they suffer defeat in Spain and Portugal hand Romania their first loss in the European Nations Cup, which spans two years. Romania would fall one place, as would Georgia if they lose to Belgium.
USA would be the beneficiaries of first losses for Georgia and Romania, who both enjoyed impressive November series with victories over higher ranked teams, with a two-place rise to 16th without kicking a ball.
The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.