The Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification race resumes in Europe this weekend with the start of the Rugby Europe Championship 2018.
With Georgia having automatically qualified for the first time in their history, the best-placed team other than the Lelos over the combined 2017 and 2018 championship table will qualify as Europe 1 for Asia’s first Rugby World Cup, joining Ireland, Scotland, Japan and the Play-Off winner in Pool A.
Romania are in pole position to secure that place after winning the title in 2017, but for Russia, Spain and Germany, a place in the play-off against Portugal – winner of round four of the European qualifying process – is very much alive. The winner of that match will then progress to the Europe/Oceania cross-regional play-off in June for another chance to gain entry to rugby’s showcase event in Japan.
Fans will not have to wait long for the big matches and this weekend’s encounter between Russia and Spain in Krasnodar is likely to be decisive with the victory vital to the hosts’ hopes of qualifying for their second Rugby World Cup.
Spain won 16-6 in Madrid last February and a repeat of that result could open up an nine-point gap between the nations in the race to Japan 2019.
Almost 20 years have passed since Spain played in their only Rugby World Cup in 1999, while Russia played in RWC 2011 and then agonisingly fell at the final hurdle against Uruguay in the repechage for England 2015.
Germany sit only a point adrift of Russia in fourth in the standings and will be hoping to repeat their shock 41-38 victory over Romania in the opening round of the 2017 Championship to keep their own hopes of a first Rugby World Cup appearance alive.
Streaming of the matches will be available via the Rugby Europe website.
Details of the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualifying process can be found at www.rugbyworldcup.com/qualifying.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont said: "The Rugby Europe Championship is a fantastic competition and we look forward to this year’s tournament with added interest as teams vie for a coveted place at Rugby World Cup 2019 as Europe 1.
“I am sure that the action will be compelling and while Romania are in an excellent position, the big match in round one is Russia versus Spain. The winner will certainly be a step closer to securing a place in the play-off.”
Time is running out for fans to apply for Rugby World Cup 2019 team and stadium ticket packs with the window due to close on 12 February (23:59 Japan time). Supporter tours via official travel agents can also now be purchased. Full information can be found at www.rugbyworldcup.com/tickets.
Mastercard, as a Worldwide Partner of Rugby World Cup 2019, is offering those who apply for tickets using their Mastercard the chance to receive a double entry in the ticketing ballot for the opportunity to secure tickets to each of the matches they apply for.