The race for the Six Nations and Rugby Europe Championship titles intensifies this weekend with the pursuit of World Rugby Men's Rankings points proving to be an interesting sub-plot as teams jostle to be seeded as high as possible before the Rugby World Cup 2023 draw takes place this November.
Defending Six Nations champions Wales may have seen their eight-match unbeaten run in the tournament come to an end with defeat in Dublin a fortnight ago, but victory over France could see them finish the weekend in the top bands of seeds, in fourth, if the margin of victory is sufficiently big and Ireland lose to England.
As well as keeping their own Grand Slam dreams alive, a win for France at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff would see Les Bleus overtake Wales in the rankings, while Italy can reclaim 12th place from Georgia and condemn Scotland to 10th – their lowest position for four years – if they manage to put their five-year losing run in the Championship to bed.
Meanwhile, unbeaten Ireland head to Twickenham knowing that victory over England would see them cement their place in the top band of seeds by moving up to third at their hosts' expense. England cannot fall any lower than fourth, though.
In the Rugby Europe Championship, Spain have an outside chance of climbing to their highest-ever ranking of 15th with victory in Romania, while Russia could be heading in the other direction and plummet to the new depths of 27th if results go against them.
What an intercept from @StuartWHogg_ back in 2013!— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 21, 2020
The Scottish skipper went coast to coast at BT Murrayfield against the Azzurri...how will his side go tomorrow?#GuinnessSixNations pic.twitter.com/zDaOvuhF18
ITALY (13) v SCOTLAND (9) (Saturday)
Played: 30 – Scotland leads 22-8
Points for: Italy 515 / Scotland 749
Average score: Italy 17-24 Scotland
First meeting: 14 December, 1996 – Scotland 29-22 Italy – Murrayfield
Last meeting: 2 February, 2019 – Scotland 33-20 Italy – Murrayfield
Scotland coach Gregor Townsend has made three changes to his side with Stuart McInally, Ben Toolis and Chris Harris all promoted from the bench. McInally trades places with Fraser Brown, who moves to the bench, while fellow Edinburgh forward, second-row Toolis, comes in for the injured Jonny Gray. Harris has been selected ahead of Huw Jones, who drops out of the 23-man squad, with winger Byron McGuigan taking Harris’s place on the bench.
Veteran loose-forward Alessandro Zanni will draw alongside Jason Leonard and John Hayes in 10th place on the list for most Championship appearances when he runs out for his 54th match in the competition. Zanni, now in his 14th year as an international, will also move up to joint second with Martin Castrogiovanni in terms of Italian caps won (119), still 23 behind record-holder Sergio Parisse. Zanni, 36, was injured in the warm-up for the France match but is fit again and is the only change made by Franco Smith.
- Scotland have won the last seven meetings since Italy’s 22-19 win at Murrayfield in February 2015
- The sides have met 10 times in Italy and the wins have been split 5-5
- Scotland have won each of the last four Six Nations meetings between the teams, including a 29-0 win in Edinburgh back in March 2017
- Scotland have yet to score a try in the 2020 Championship
- Italy will fall below Tonga with a home defeat but can drop no lower than 14th
- The Azzurri will return to 12th place – at Georgia’s expense – if they win
- Scotland must win by more than 15 points to climb above Japan into eighth place
- Anything but a win will see Scotland drop below Argentina to occupy their lowest position since February 2016
WALES (5) v FRANCE (6) (Saturday)
Played: 98 – Wales leads 51-44 with three draws
Points for: Wales 1,479 / France 1,419
Average score: Wales 15-14 France
First meeting: 2 March, 1908 – Wales 36-4 France – Cardiff Arms Park
Last meeting: 20 October, 2019 – RWC 2019 – Wales 20-19 France – Oita Stadium, Japan
Wales coach Wayne Pivac has called up Gareth Davies and Ross Moriarty into the starting line-up in a side showing just two changes from the defeat to Ireland a fortnight ago. Scrum-half Davies replaces Tomos Williams, and Moriarty takes over from flanker Aaron Wainwright, packing down in the back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Taulupe Faletau. Winger Josh Adams and fly-half Dan Biggar, who went off during the Ireland game, are fit to face Les Bleus and both start.
Visitors France have received a big boost with the return to fitness of powerful centre, Virimi Vakatawa. The Racing 92 player comes back into the side after missing the win over Italy to form a new-look midfield with Arthur Vincent, the first player born after the Principality Stadium was built to play test rugby there. Gaël Fickou shifts to the wing as a result, his first outing on the wing at this level since this fixture two years ago. France coach Fabien Galthié has resisted making any further changes.
- France have won only one of their last nine meetings with Wales, 20-18 at Stade de France in 2017
- Of their 20 meetings in the Six Nations, the results have been split evenly, with Wales and France boasting 10 wins apiece and none of the last five fixtures have been decided by 10 points or more
- Wales’ last Six Nations home defeat to a side other than England or Ireland was almost exactly 10 years ago – a 26-20 loss to France on 26 February, 2010
- With a victory, France could record four straight Six Nations wins for the first time since a run of eight consecutive successes between March 2009 and February 2011
- France have never won their opening three games of the Six Nations without going on to win the Championship (three Grand Slams)
- Wales' starting line-up in Cardiff will have a total 859 caps, the most any country has fielded in the competition. By contrast, France will have just 234 caps to their name as their young side bid for a third win in as many matches
- France will drop below Australia in defeat
- Wales will return to the top band of seeds for the RWC 2023 pool draw if they win by more than 15 points and Ireland lose at Twickenham
- A smaller margin of victory will see the same outcome if Ireland lose by more than 15 points at Twickenham
- France will be the higher-ranked of the two teams if they win
- France will close to within a fraction under a tenth of a point of the top band of seeds if they win by more than 15 points and Ireland lose by the same margin
ENGLAND (3) v IRELAND (4) (Sunday)
Played: 135 – England leads 78-49 with eight draws
Points for: England 1,639 / Ireland 1,151
Average score: England 12-8 Ireland
First meeting: 15 February, 1875 – England* 0-0 Ireland – Kennington Oval, London
Last meeting: 24 August, 2019 – England 57-15 Ireland – Twickenham
* England won on goals kicked
Jonathan Joseph starts on the wing for England for the first time as he wins his 50th cap in a rejigged back-three that sees Elliot Daly restored to full-back. Manu Tuilagi has recovered from the groin injury that forced him off in the first half of the round one loss to France to take his place in midfield, while scrum-half Ben Youngs is rewarded for his second-half performance against Scotland last time out with a start in place of Willi Heinz. Henry Slade, who has not played since December because of an ankle injury, is named on the bench.
Ireland are unchanged from the team that started the win against Wales a fortnight ago. There is one change to the bench, though, with number eight Caelan Doris restored to the squad after sitting out round two.
- Victory for Ireland would be their 50th test win over England
- England and Ireland have contested 20 Six Nations matches, with England claiming victory nine times compared to Ireland’s 11 wins
- Ireland have won on four of their 10 visits to London in the Six Nations era and landed their biggest margin of victory over England on English soil in the competition in 2018 when they ran out 24-15 victors
- England have only lost seven home games in the Six Nations era – with four of them coming against Ireland
- Andy Farrell-coached Ireland take on an England side captained by his son, Owen, in what is believed to be a first such father-son contest in international rugby
- England cannot climb any higher than third because they will still trail New Zealand by 3.63 rating points even with an emphatic victory
- Ireland will be the higher-ranked of the nations in victory
- England can fall no lower than fourth, even if they lose by more than 15 points and Wales beat France by the same margin
RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP
ROMANIA (19) v SPAIN (16) (Saturday)
Played: 37 – Romania leads 33-4
Points for: Romania 1,057 / Spain 375
Average score: Romania 28-10 Spain
First meeting: 1 May, 1958 – Romania 14-12 Spain – Liege, Belgium
Last meeting: 3 March, 2019 – Spain 21-18 Romania – Estadio Nacional Universidad Complutense, Madrid
Only seven players retain their places from the Romania team that lost 22-11 to Portugal in Lisbon a fortnight ago. Head coach Andy Robinson has selected an entirely new front-row, consisting of props Alexandru Savin and Horatiu Pungea and hooker Eugen Capatana. Johan van Heerden joins Adrian Motoc in the second row, while captain Mihai Macovei and fellow flanker Dragos Ser pack down with changed number eight, Cristi Chirica. Florin Surugiu has a new half-back partner in fly-half Daniel Plai while there is a combined total of 230 caps in midfield with Florin Vlaicu partnering Catalin Fercu. Nicolas Onutu comes into an otherwise unchanged back-three.
Spain coach Santiago Santos has reacted to the defeat against Georgia by making five changes to his starting line-up, one of them positional. In an otherwise unaltered pack, Stade Francais' Thierry Futeu comes into the front row at loose-head. The changes to the backline see Lucas Rubio replace Guillaume Rouet at scrum-half, Alvar Gimeno is preferred to Andrea Rabago at inside centre, Julen Goia takes his place on the right-wing in the absence of the injured Jordi Jorba and John Bell shifts from the left-wing to full-back. Jose Diaz and Baltazar Taibo will make their test debuts if called up from the bench.
- Spain have won the last two meetings between the sides with three of their four victories coming in the last eight years. However, Spain have never won in Romania before
- Last week’s 23-10 home defeat to Georgia ended Los Leones’ record-equalling eight-test winning run
- Having lost to Georgia and Portugal in the first two rounds, Romania are bidding to avoid losing their first three games in this competition for the first time in history
- Spain will slip below USA and Uruguay in defeat
- Spain could climb to a new high of 15th but this would require Los Leones to win by more than 15 points and Georgia to lose by the same margin to Belgium
- Romania cannot improve their position but a victory by more than 15 points would leave them just 11 hundredths behind Spain
- Romania can only fall from 19th if they lose by more than 15 points and Portugal beat Russia by a similar margin, in which case the teams would trade places
GEORGIA (12) v BELGIUM (27) (Saturday)
Played: 5 – Georgia leads 5-0
Points for: Georgia 176 / Belgium 25
Average score: Georgia 35-5 Belgium
First meeting: 2 February, 2013 – Georgia 17-13 Belgium – Stade Roi Baudouin, Brussels
Last meeting: 2 March, 2019 – Georgia 46-6 Belgium – Petit Heysel, Brussels
Georgia's caretaker head coach Levan Maisashvili has made wholesale changes to his starting line-up with new caps awarded to second-row Lasha Jaiani and centre and fellow former Georgia U20 captain, Deme Tapladze. There are nine changes in total to the team that won in Spain, including a first appearance of the year for flanker Giorgi Tkhilaishvili and winger Zurab Dzneladze. Number eight Beka Gorgadze becomes the 33rd player to captain the Lelos.
Only five players retain their place in Belgium's starting XV from the shock win over Russia in round two. Try-scoring hooker Thomas Deinst is the only surviving member of the pack, while Antoine Vassert and Guillaume Piron go again at fly-half and inside-centre respectively. Thomas Wallraf and Gaspard Lalli swap wings.
- Georgia have scored 30 or more points in their last four meetings with Belgium
- Georgia have won all five previous meetings, by a margin of 40 points or more on the last two occasions
- Georgia are on a 12-game winning run in the Rugby Europe Championship dating back to their 8-7 loss to Romania in March 2017
- Georgia are on a 26-game winning run at home in the Rugby Europe Championship dating back to a 20-20 draw against Portugal in February 2009. Portugal were the last side to beat them at home in this competition, 19-14 in February 2004
- Belgium haven't won away from home since defeating Poland 21-11 in 2016
- Their round two win over Russia broke a six-game losing streak for the Black Devils
- Georgia cannot improve their rating as a result of the 15.13 points difference to Belgium before home weighting is factored in
- Georgia could win and still drop below Italy, if the Azzurri avoid defeat at home against Scotland
- A first-ever defeat for Georgia at the hands of Belgium would see them fall three places – four if they lose by more than 15 points and Spain win by the same margin
- Belgium will remain 27th in defeat but will climb at least one place in victory
RUSSIA (25) v PORTUGAL (20) (Saturday)
Played: 19 – Russia leads 13-5 with one draw
Points for: Russia 518 / Portugal 362
Average score: Russia 27-19 Portugal
First meeting: 7 April, 2001 – Russia 45-27 Portugal – Dynamo Stadium, Krasnodar
Last meeting: 19 March, 2016 – Russia 53-21 Portugal – Estadio Universitario, Lisbon
Nikita Hurashov makes his first start for the Bears on the left wing as Lyn Jones reacts to the 38-12 loss to Belgium by making wholesale changes to his starting line-up. Only prop Valery Morozov and number eight Victor Gresev survive in the pack, while inside-centre Kirill Golosnitskiy is the only player to wear the same shirt number in the backs. Vasily Artemyev switches to full-back with German Davydov taking his place on the right wing, the sevens international having lined up at outside-centre against the Black Devils in Brussels. Andrei Garbuzov captains the side from the second-row alongside the returning Andrei Ostrikov.
Portugal's changes all come exclusively in the pack with hooker Lionel Campergue packing down in the front-row in place of Mike Tadjier, one of Os Lobos' try-scorers in their 22-11 win against Romania. The new second-row combination consists of Jose Madeira and Duarte Torgal, while Thibault Freitas replaces Manuel Eusebio at the back of the pack.
- Russia have won the last six meetings between the sides, dating back to Portugal’s 21-19 win in Sochi in February 2011
- Portugal have won nine of their last 10 tests (their only defeat in that time was a 26-24 loss to Brazil in November 2019)
- With two wins from two, Portugal are enjoying their best start to a Championship since the 2004-05 competition
- Russia will fall below Brazil in defeat – equalling their lowest ever ranking of 26th which they last occupied in November 2005
- The Bears will drop to a new low of 27th if that defeat is combined with a first Belgium victory over Georgia
- Portugal can only improve their rating if they win by more than 15 points and Romania lose by the same margin
- Russia will climb one place with victory and could regain all five of the places they lost after a heavy loss to Belgium if they win by more than 15 points
- Portugal will retain 20th place in defeat provided it is by 15 points or less. A greater margin will see Os Lobos drop four places to 24th
The World Rugby Men’s Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 GMT