The Azzurre are involved in the first of the quarter-final ties when they take on Women's Six Nations rivals France at the Northland Events Centre in Whangārei on Saturday morning.
While France have the better overall head-to-head record, Italy beat Les Bleues 26-19 in a pre-Rugby World Cup 2021 warm-up in September, and if they are able to do that again in the tournament proper, they will move to their highest-ever position of fourth.
Such an outcome would consign France to a place outside of the top four for the first time since the rankings were introduced in February 2016.
France cannot improve on fourth place in victory unless New Zealand or Canada lose to lower-ranked opponents Wales and USA respectively.
Will history repeat itself?
New Zealand’s game against Wales is the second match of the day and is also being played in Whangārei.
The Black Ferns defeated Wales 56-12 in the pool phase of the competition but like then, they will not receive any additional rating points for a follow-up victory due to the 16.87 points differential between the sides.
Wales have never beaten New Zealand in five attempts, with a 24-6 defeat in the first encounter in 1991 the closest scoreline to date.
But if they can set the record straight and overturn the result from a fortnight ago, Ioan Cunningham’s side will be rewarded with eighth place.
The Welsh must win by more than 15 points to go any higher, such a margin being enough to lift them above a beaten USA and Australia to a new all-time high of sixth.
Big prize at stake for Wallaroos
The third quarter-final sees the world’s number one team England come up against Australia at the Waitakere Stadium in Auckland.
The Red Roses are untouchable at the top of the rankings. However, a shock exit at the quarter-final stage combined with a win for New Zealand over Wales could see the 7.21-point gap between the teams reduced by six points.
Australia will equal their previous best ranking of fifth if they snap England’s record 28-match winning run as long as Italy also lose, while fourth place is even possible but only if the Wallaroos win by more than 15 points and Italy win by less than this margin. In this instance, they would leapfrog France as well as Italy.
The quarter-finals conclude on Sunday with a re-run of the North American derby between Canada and USA.
If the Women’s Eagles can gain revenge for their 29-14 Pool B defeat to Canada a week ago, and Italy and Australia bow out of the competition, they will move up to fifth, while a record high of fourth is possible depending on the margin of victory.
Canada cannot improve their rating with victory over USA due to the 11.05 points between the sides.