While an England victory over Wales at Twickenham on Saturday wouldn’t guarantee Eddie Jones' side the Six Nations title, unless combined with a defeat or draw for France at Murrayfield the following day, it would put them very close.
But in the European Nations Cup Division 1A, Georgia, whose national flag also incorporates the red St George cross in its design, can make mathematically certain of a sixth straight title if they see off Russia in Sochi on Saturday.
Aside from silverware and pride being at stake, there are significant gains to be had in the World Rugby Rankings too. To give you a snapshot, Portugal stand to climb as many as eight places with victory, while a beaten France are in danger of falling to an all-time low of ninth.
Here's a brief rundown of the weekend's six matches in Europe's top two internationals competitions.
RBS SIX NATIONS
IRELAND V ITALY
"DID YOU KNOW?"
"DID YOU KNOW?"
The only winless sides left in the Championship come together at the Aviva Stadium, a venue where Italy have never won before in its current guise. They did win once at the old Lansdowne Road, in 1997, when the stadium was unrecognisable from today’s appearance.
The Azzurri currently prop up the standings after a narrow opening loss in France was followed by home defeats to England and Scotland and they are favourites to claim another wooden spoon – their 10th since being admitted into the Six Nations. Ireland are one place above them in fifth after drawing with Wales and losing narrowly to France and England. Ireland’s last bottom place finish was in 1998.
- Surprisingly, Italy won three of the first four meetings between the nations but have only prevailed once since – 22-15 in the 2013 Six Nations.
- Ireland are hoping to avoid becoming the first team to go from champions to fall guys in the space of 12 months since France suffered the ignominy 1998 and 1999.
- Ireland have only scored two tries in the first three rounds. Their previous lowest across an entire Championship season is eight (in last year’s title win and in 2008).
- Ireland are the best tacklers in the competition, missing just 50 of 547 attempts for a 91 per cent success rate. They have also made the most tackles – 73 more than second best Wales. Conversely Italy have the poorest tackle success rate at 86 per cent.
Italy cannot fail any lower than their current position of 14th while a first win in Dublin in the Six Nations era will see them return to 12th, just over half a ranking point above Georgia, even if the Lelos win comfortably away to the lower-ranked Russia in the European Nations Cup.
If a disappointing Six Nations goes from bad to worse for defending champions Ireland and they are beaten at home by the Azzurri, Joe Schmidt’s men will drop below Scotland to ninth place if their Celtic cousins triumph against France at Murrayfield. In the event that they lose by more than 15 points, Ireland will drop out of the world’s top 10 ranked nations for the first time, slipping below Japan and Fiji as well.
Ireland will not gain any rating points with victory, irrespective of the margin, because they are ranked six places and almost nine points above the Azzurri and are at home, but they will replace France in seventh if they win and Les Bleus lose in Edinburgh on Sunday.
ENGLAND V WALES
Wales return to the scene of their Rugby World Cup 2015 triumph over England on the back of two wins and a draw in this Six Nations. England, meanwhile, are still unbeaten in the Championship and remain on course for a first Grand Slam since 2003, after backing up away wins against Scotland and Italy with a 21-10 victory on home turf against Ireland.
While beaten by Wales and Australia at Twickenham during RWC 2015, England have not lost at their HQ in the Six Nations since Wales came away with a 19-12 victory in 2012.
Indeed, in the history of the Six Nations it is England who comfortably have the best home record, having won 85 per cent of their matches at Twickenham and lost just six, with the largest margin of defeat being just seven points.
Wales, like England, have named an unchanged starting XV for the encounter, although fit-again scrum-half Rhys Webb returns to the bench.
- England are attempting to claim a 25th Triple Crown since their first in 1883, although just three of those have been during the Six Nations era.
- George Kruis has won the most lineouts with 19, but it is Wales who have the most efficient lineout with 28 wins and only one loss so far.
- Billy Vunipola has the most carries so far with 58.
- George North has beaten the most defenders after the first three rounds with 16, while team-mate Taulupe Faletau has made the most tackles with 51.
Northern hemisphere bragging rights are at stake as well as potentially the title. But England will need to register their biggest Six Nations win over Wales for a decade in order to leapfrog Saturday’s opponents and move up to fourth in the rankings behind New Zealand, South Africa and Australia.
In the event of victory by more than 15 points, England will receive 1.32 rating points and move on to 83.50 points with Wales relegated to fifth on 82.66. A smaller margin would still be enough to lift England above Argentina into fifth.
Should Wales repeat their famous 28-25 RWC 2015 win back in September, they will receive just over a rating point, but win by more than 15 and the gain is 1.68 points and that would leave them exactly two behind South Africa in the overall rankings.
FRANCE V SCOTLAND
The two mid-table teams, Scotland and France, bring the curtain down on round four at Murrayfield on Sunday. A win for France could put Les Bleus back in contention for the title, but Scotland will want to consign to history their recent poor run of results in the Six Nations at their spiritual home.
Incredibly, Scotland have lost their last seven Six Nations encounters at Murrayfield and have never before lost eight in a row at home in the 133-year history of the Championship.
"DID YOU KNOW?"
France have won their last 10 test matches against Scotland since their 20-16 reversal at Murrayfield a decade ago. France are bidding for an unprecedented five wins in a row at the Edinburgh venue.
If past form is anything to go by, a tight game is in store. The margin between the sides has been seven points or less in the last four Six Nations meetings.
- Scotland captain Greig Laidlaw kicked a personal best of 21 points in a Six Nations match in Rome a fortnight ago. It was three short of the all-time Scotland record of 24, which is held by Brendan Laney.
- The 36 points Scotland scored against Italy at the Stadio Olimpico was their best return in a single match in the history of the Six Nations.
- Stuart Hogg has made the most metres in the Six Nations with 250 so far. Jonny Gray has made the most tackles without missing one – 48.
- France have the top four individual offloaders this campaign: Virimi Vakatawa and Maxime Medard have seven apiece, followed by Damien Chouly with five and Yoann Maestri with four.
- France are the only nation to have beaten more than 50 defenders in the first three rounds (54).
Any form of victory will be enough to take Scotland above Ireland and into eighth place in the rankings – but only if the Irish fail to beat Italy at the Aviva Stadium. Seventh is even possible if the results fall nicely for them. Defeat will cost them the two places they gained following the 36-20 win in Rome a fortnight ago with a drop back to 11th.
A defeat by more than 15 points – and a win for Ireland by the same margin against Italy –will see France fall to an all-time low of ninth. A French victory, coupled with home defeats for England and Ireland, will result in Les Bleus moving up to sixth place.
EUROPEAN NATIONS CUP DIVISION 1A
The European Nations Cup Division 1A returns on Saturday with three exciting games, all broadcast live and free of charge on Rugbyeurope.tv
RUSSIA V GEORGIA
Competition leaders Georgia can seal a sixth straight ENC title with a round to spare if they beat third-placed Russia for the 18th time in their history in Sochi on Saturday. A draw will even be enough if Romania fail to win with a bonus point at home to Germany. Russia need to beat Georgia for the first time in 23 years and hope Romania slip up to have any hope of finishing as runners-up.
Russia won the first-ever encounter between the two in May 1993 on neutral territory in Poland, but Georgia have won every game since with the exception of a 12-12 draw in Tbilisi in 2002. Last year’s fixture at the Mikheil Meskhi Stadium in Tbilisi finished 33-0 to the Lelos.
- Georgia have lost just three ENC matches in the last 10 years.
- Russia have never been ‘nilled’ in back-to-back test matches before. The Bears drew a blank in the last round when they lost 30-0 to Romania in Cluj.
- Azamat Bitiev was only the third Russian to be sent off in a test when he was ordered off 10 minutes from time for fighting in the defeat by Romania a fortnight ago.
- Fly-half cum full-back Yury Kushnarev will become Russia’s most capped player if he plays on Saturday. The 30-year-old is currently level with Andrei Kuzin on 78 appearances.
- Georgia need 24 points to reach 500 in tests against Russia
Georgia will move up to a new high of 12th in the rankings with victory – as long as Italy don’t beat Ireland in Dublin for the first time in Six Nations history.
If they can pull off a win by more than 15 points Russia will leapfrog North American duo, USA and Canada, into 17th place. In such a scenario, Georgia stand to lose two rankings spots and drop to 15th.
A big Russia win combined with a heavy loss for Romania at home to Germany will actually result in the Bears climbing up to 16th in the world. A win of 15 points or less would result in a one-place rise for the Bears with Canada the unlucky bystanders.
SPAIN V PORTUGAL
The Iberian nations are without a win between them this year. Portugal prop up the table following their shock defeat to Germany a fortnight ago and Spain, who once had designs on second place, are languishing in fourth, on 16 points.
In the 81-year history of fixtures between the two, Spain have the better record in the head-to-head with 23 victories to Portugal’s 10 with two draws. Portugal enjoyed their best period of success between 2003 and 2010 with five wins from six outings. During that time they also qualified for Rugby World Cup 2007.
- Spain are the only team to score a half century of points in matches between the two (50-15 in Lisbon in April 1995)
- Portugal’s record cap holder Vasco Uva, now retired from international rugby, has appeared in more Iberian derbies (11) than any other player.
- Portugal have only won two of their last 12 tests.
The maximum reward Spain can achieve for victory is a fraction over one quarter of a point, which will not be enough for them to climb any higher than their present ranking of 22nd. The loss of 0.17 rating points for a defeat would result in Portugal dropping below Chile and into 30th position.
There are huge gains to be had for Portugal, though, if they can record their first win of the year and get one over on neighbours Spain. With a victory of more than 15 points, Os Lobos will gain as many as two and three-quarters rankings points –enough to propel them seven places up to 22rd and actually see them sit one place above Spain.
ROMANIA V GERMANY
Second-placed Romania play at the Stadionul Emil Alexandrescu in the city of Iasi for only the fifth time in their history. The 30-0 win over Russia there a fortnight ago maintained their 100 per cent record at the venue.
Despite the sizeable gap between the teams in the ENC 1A table and in the World Rugby Rankings, the higher-ranked Oaks won’t be taking anything for granted against Germany as they were given a good run for their money in last season’s corresponding fixture before two late penalties from Florin Vlaicu earned them a 17-12 victory in Heidelberg.
Germany will arrive in the so-called cultural capital of Romania full of confidence though, after their historic 50-27 win over Portugal saw them move off the foot of the Division 1A table. It was the first time the Germans had won at this level at the 18th attempt and added a new twist to the battle to avoid relegation to Division 1B.
Fixtures between the two date back to 1935, Germany winning the first three games during the pre-World War II period when they were a recognised force in the European game. When hostilities resumed after a 56-year gap in 1994, Romania were the dominant force and are currently on a four-game winning streak against this weekend’s opposition.
- Record points scorer Florin Vlaicu will move a clear second in Romania’s all-time appearance list if he wins his 89th cap on Saturday.
- Replacement back-rower Andrei Gorcioaia was the seventh Romania player to be sent off in a test – and the first for three-and-a-half years –when he was given his marching orders 10 minutes from time in the 30-0 win against Russia.
- Germany have scored 98 points in seven tests against Romania
- Statistically Germany have the worst defence in the ENC 1A in 2016 with 20 tries conceded.
Romania cannot improve their current position of 16th with victory. A defeat by 15 points or less would also see them unchanged but anything bigger and the loss of three rankings points would see them fall below USA, and possibly Russia, if the Bears pull out all the stops at home to ENC 1A leaders Georgia. In such an event, the Oaks would fall two places to 18th.
Germany will move above Spain and into 22nd place if they win by more than 15 points and Spain lose or are held to a draw against Portugal.