It is nearly three-and-a-half years since Wales occupied second place in the World Rugby Rankings but they could match that historic high, set on 28 September, 2015 following their RWC 2015 win over England at Twickenham, if they come away from Murrayfield with an emphatic victory and France do them a favour the following day by either winning or holding Ireland to a draw.
Scotland versus Wales is the first of two encounters on Saturday with England's match against Italy kicking off later at Twickenham. History suggests that Italy's long wait for a Six Nations victory may have to continue given that they have never beaten England before but, after what happened in the corresponding match in 2017, when the Azzurri caught England off guard with a surprise ruck tactic, it is always wise to be prepared for the unexpected when Conor O'Shea's team are in town.
As for defending champions Ireland, they will be desperate to get the win they need to travel down to Cardiff on the final weekend and remain in contention for the title. Opponents France field an unchanged line-up for consecutive Six Nations matches for the first time since the last two rounds of the 2003 Championship and will hope that the same group of players who defeated Scotland in round three can deliver a second win of the year.
WATCH | Gregor Townsend talks about the changes made to the team to face Wales this Saturday at BT Murrayfield and pays tribute to the Glasgow Warriors pair that will make their 50th appearance #AsOne pic.twitter.com/Kxe9HyUgUd— Scottish Rugby (@Scotlandteam) March 7, 2019
Scotland (7) v Wales (3)
Finn Russell returns from injury to take his place at fly-half in a Scotland team showing four changes to the one beaten by France in round three. Russell will be partnered at half-back by Ali Price, who has been chosen ahead of Greig Laidlaw. Darcy Graham starts on the wing in place of the injured Sean Maitland and WP Nel is back at prop. Stuart McInally captains the side from hooker in the absence of Laidlaw, while Jonny Gray and Tommy Seymour will win their 50th Scotland caps.
Warren Gatland has made just one injury-enforced change to his starting XV as second-row Adam Beard comes into the team in place of Cory Hill. It will be Beard's third start of the Championship after lining up for rounds one and two and then taking to the bench against England. Jake Ball comes onto the bench as the second-row cover but, otherwise, the match-day 23 is the same that defeated England to keep Welsh Grand Slam hopes alive.
- Scotland's only win in the last 11 Six Nations meetings with Wales came in the corresponding fixture at Murrayfield two years ago (29-13)
- Scotland and Wales have both scored seven tries in the 2019 Championship
- Scotland have not scored more than two tries in this fixture for 14 years
- Scotland’s seven-game unbeaten record at home in the Six Nations ended with their 22-13 defeat against Ireland in round two
- Wales are on a record run of 12 consecutive test wins
- Wales have gone on to win the Grand Slam in each of the previous three editions of the Six Nations in which they opened a Championship with three consecutive victories (2005, 2008 and 2012)
- Wales have won only three of their last nine away matches in the Six Nations (drawn one, lost five)
- Scotland have conceded 29 penalties in this tournament, a joint-high with Italy.
- It is not possible for Scotland to climb any higher than their present position of seventh.
- Wales will match their previous highest ranking of second if they win by more than 15 points and Ireland fail to beat France.
- Wales will surrender third place to England if they are beaten by more than 15 points and Eddie Jones' side do not lose against Italy.
England (4) v Italy (14)
Eddie Jones has a selected a side full of physicality with call-ups for powerhouse winger Joe Cokanasiga, in what will be the Bath winger's first Six Nations start, Ben Te'o at inside-centre and Ellis Genge at loose-head prop. Manu Tuilagi shifts to outside-centre following Te'o's inclusion with Henry Slade dropping to the bench. Brad Shields' inclusion at blindside flanker is the fifth and final change, meaning Mark Wilson has to settle for a place on the bench.
Captain Sergio Parisse returns from the head injury that ruled him out against Ireland and starts at number eight in a pack showing three changes. Sebastian Negri comes in on the blindside with the two flankers from last time out – Jimmy Tuivaiti and Maxime Mbanda – dropping out and Braam Steyn switching from number eight to openside flanker. Leonardo Ghiraldini makes way at hooker to hand Luca Bigi his first start in this Championship.
- England have won all 24 of their tests against Italy, only failing to score a try in one of those matches – at Twickenham in 2013
- They have scored 757 points in 19 Six Nations matches against Italy at an average of 40 points per game
- England's record Six Nations win was an 80-23 victory v Italy in February 2001 in which they scored 10 tries
- Italy are on a 20-match losing streak in the Six Nations dating back to their 22-19 victory over Scotland in 2015
- England have scored 11 tries so far in the 2019 Championship, more than any other nation – Italy have conceded 11, the most by any nation
- Italy have scored at least 15 points in their last four games in the Six Nations
- England have made 40 dominant tackles more than any other nation so far in this season's Six Nations, while no nation has made fewer dominant tackles than Italy (33)
- England can only improve their position if Wales lose heavily in Scotland
- An historic win for Italy would see them jump two places to 12th, or three if the margin of victory is more than 15 points
“That game in 2007 is one of the most powerful memories for me for many reasons. When you score in the final minutes of a game to win, that doesn’t happen every day,” https://t.co/W59mTHisfI— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) March 8, 2019
Ireland (2) v France (8)
Ireland welcome back a number of their big guns for the visit of France with Rory Best returning as hooker and captain after Sean Cronin started his first Six Nations match in the round-three win against Italy. Best returns to a much-changed pack in which Iain Henderson and James Ryan form an all-new second-row partnership. Josh van der Flier replaces Sean O’Brien at openside flanker and CJ Stander comes in for Jordi Murphy after recovering from his cheekbone injury. Garry Ringrose's inclusion in midfield is the only change to the backline.
France coach Jacques Brunel has kept faith with the players who recorded their first win of the Championship against Scotland in round three after naming an unchanged 23.
- France and Ireland have met 19 times in the Six Nations, with Ireland winning eight games, losing nine times and drawing twice
- France ended a three-match losing run in the Six Nations with their 27-10 win against Scotland
- France have won just two of their last 11 away games in the Six Nations – both against Italy
- Ireland failed to win consecutive games against France in the Six Nations between 2001-14 but have won four of the last five matches (wins in 2014-15 and 2017-18)
- Ireland are unbeaten at home against France in the Six Nations since a 25-22 loss in February 2011. Since then, France have averaged just 11 points in their three trips to Ireland in the competition
- Ireland have only scored more than 30 points against France on one occasion in the Six Nations – in a 43-31 loss in February 2006. Neither side has eclipsed 19 points in any of the last four meetings in the tournament
- France have over twice as many offloads as any other side (48), while Ireland have half as many as every other nation
- Ireland have been awarded more penalties than any other side in the 2019 Six Nations (29)
- France remain the only side to have successfully kicked a drop goal in the 2019 Six Nations. Wales are the only other nation to have attempted one
- Ireland cannot improve their rating or position in victory
- A French victory would lift Les Bleus above Scotland – if the Scots fail to beat Wales
RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP
Georgia (12) v Germany (28)
Georgia coach Milton Haig has made eight changes, one of them positional, from the side that beat Belgium last weekend. Hooker Shalva Mamukashvili returns to the front row but is joined by new additions on either side in loose-head Zurabi Zhvania and tight-head Beka Gigashvili. Shalva Sutiashvili comes into the second row, while the only other change to the pack comes on the blindside with the selection of Beka Saginadze. Gela Aprasidze returns to partner Tedo Abzhandadze at half-back, while Soso Matiashvili moves from full-back to the wing with Lasha Khmaladze wearing the No.15 jersey. Lasha Malaguradze gets a run out at inside-centre.
- Georgia have a three-point lead over Russia at the top of the standings and could secure the title a round early if a bonus-point win is accompanied by a defeat or a draw for the Bears
- Georgia achieved their biggest win in over a year in beating Belgium 46-6 in Brussels
- Georgia are on an 11-match winning streak at home dating back to 28-22 loss to Japan in November 2016
- Georgia have won all seven previous encounters, and have scored 50 points or more in the last five fixtures
- Germany will be condemned to a play-off with the winners of the Rugby Europe Trophy if they take nothing from the game and Belgium a draw or better
- Georgia cannot improve their position but could fall as low as 14th if badly beaten
- Depending on other results, Germany could climb by as many as five places to 23rd if they win by more than 15 points
Romania (20) v Russia (18)
Romania will be led out by a new captain after Adrian Ion was given the armband previously worn by Mihai Macovei. Ion, who wins his ninth cap at the age of 32, is also a straight replacement for Macovei in the Oaks' back row. The only other change to the team beaten by Spain comes at outside-centre with Nicolas Onutu taking the place of Catalin Fercu.
Russia coach Lyn Jones makes four changes to the side that beat Germany last time out, including three new additions to the pack. Stanislav Selsky and Vladimir Podrezov come into the front row in place of Evgeny Matveev and Innokentiy Zykov at hooker and tight-head respectively, while Bogdan Fedotko stands down for Andrei Ostrikov in the second row. Jones has opted to leave the backs as they are apart from at scrum-half where Dmitry Perov takes over from Vasily Dorofeev.
- Romania have won the last three matches between the teams, and have a 15-6-1 win/loss/draw overall playing record against the Bears
- Russia's last victory against the Oaks on Romanian soil was in February 2009
- Romania will be the higher-ranked of the two teams if they win
- Russia can only move up the rankings, by one place to 17th, if they win by more than 15 points and Uruguay lose at home to Brazil in the Americas Rugby Championship by the same margin
Spain (19) v Belgium (23)
Spain coach Santiago Santos has decided to make wholesale changes despite last week's 21-18 win against Romania. While the front-row remains intact, Victor Sanchez and Mickael de Marco form a new-look second-row partnership and Oier Gois is a new addition at number eight, resulting in Pierre Barthere switching to blindside. The Rouets, Guillaume and Sebastien, line up at half-back, while Fabien Perrin and Julen Goia get a run out at outside-centre and on the wing.
- Spain are on course for their best finish since 2012 when they were runners-up to Georgia
- Belgium won last year's fixture 18-10 and have only lost one of their last five outings against Los Leones
- It is not possible for Spain to climb any higher than their current position
- Victory for Belgium will lift them above Namibia
- A Belgium victory by more than 15 points would result in both teams having 61.32 points, with Los Leones remaining the higher-ranked of the two teams by two-thousandths of a point
RUGBY EUROPE TROPHY
Netherlands (24) v Portugal (27)
Sep Visser, brother of former Scotland international Tim, makes his first appearance in Dutch colours for almost a year in a much-changed side. The return of the Netherlands' top try and points scorer is one of nine changes, including one positional, to the team that started the 36-15 win against Switzerland in November. Liam McBride moves to inside-centre from fly-half to form a new-look midfield with Ilie Greeve with Jasey Vankampen filling the vacated spot. Siem Noorman is another new addition, on the opposite wing to Visser. Upfront, Kevin Krieger and Vincent Wright come into the second row with openside Blake Nightingale and number eight Ben Hamelink the other changes.
Portugal make two changes of personnel from the side that defeated Poland 65-5 in their opening Rugby Europe Trophy 2019 fixture. Upfront Diogo Ferreira is replaced at tight-head by Francisco Bruno, while Manuel Marta drops to the bench after making way for Manuel Pinto at full-back. Captain Salvador Vassalo, who scored twice against the Polish, swaps jerseys with Joao Granate and now wears six instead of seven.
- A bonus-point win for Portugal will result in them knocking the Netherlands off top spot unless the home side picks up two bonus points of their own
- The Netherlands have won both of their opening matches, while Portugal began their Trophy campaign with a 65-5 win over Poland last month
- Portugal won 36-12 when the sides met in Lisbon last year
- In the head-to-head, Portugal have won 11, lost two and drawn one
- A big win could lift the Dutch up one place to 23rd, depending on how Belgium and Brazil fare
- Portugal will be the higher-ranked of the two teams if they win, and could climb as high as 23rd if other results go their way
AMERICAS RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
USA (15) v Canada (21)
USA coach Gary Gold mas made four changes and one positional in response to last week's 32-25 defeat to Uruguay. Second-row Ben Landry and blindside flanker John Quill are promoted from the bench and wear the number four and six jerseys, while Shaun Davies returns from a week off to line up at scrum-half. Mike Te'o comes back into the side on the left wing, meaning Marcel Brache switches to full-back. Will Hooley drops out of the match-day 23 altogether.
His Canada counterpart Kingsley Jones has made two changes to his starting roster for the trip to Seattle. Veteran scrum-half Phil Mack is set to make his first appearance for Canada this year, while number eight Luke Campbell returns from injury to bolster the forward pack. Canada will once again be captained by flanker Lucas Rumball, while replacement hooker Jordan Olsen could make his test debut off the bench.
- USA are on a nine-match unbeaten run against Canada dating back to August 2013
- Canada still have a better overall record with 38 wins to the USA's 20 and two draws
- USA won 42-17 when the sides last met in Halifax, Canada, in June 2018
- It is not possible for the USA to improve their rating or ranking through victory
- A big Canadian win would condemn the Eagles to 17th place, if Uruguay also win, which would represent their lowest position since February 2018
- If coupled with a defeat for Russia, a big Canadian win would see the Canucks climb to 18th
Uruguay (16) v Brazil (25)
Leading fly-half Felipe Berchesi, one of the masterminds of Uruguay's successful Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification campaign, makes his first appearance of the year in a Los Teros side showing five changes, one of them positional, to that which beat USA 32-25 last week. Berchesi returns to form a new-look half-back partnership with Santiago Arata, while Juan Manuel Cat, who lined up at No.10 against the Eagles, moves to outside-centre. In the pack, Diego Ayala takes his place in the second row, while the two changes to the back row see Franco Lamanna and Manuel Diana join captain Juan Manuel Gaminara, at openside and number eight respectively.
All four of Brazil's changes come in the pack. Jardel Vettorato, a cornerstone of Os Tupis' renowned scrum, switches from the tight-head to loose-head, and that frees up a position for Wilton Rebolo to come into the side. They will pack down either side of veteran hooker Yan Rosetti. The only other change sees Gabriel Paganini come into the second row in place of Matteo Del'Acqua.
- Overall, Uruguay have won 24 matches to Brazil's two
- The last of Brazil's two wins against Uruguay came 55 years ago
- Brazil's only win on Uruguayan soil was 66 years ago: 3-0 in Montevideo
- If Uruguay win and the USA lose heavily at home to Canada, Los Teros will climb up to 15th – their highest position since February 2006, and only one off their all-time best
- A draw will be enough for Brazil to achieve a new all-time rankings high of 24th unless Germany beat Georgia by more than 15 points. If Os Tupis are unbeaten and either Belgium or the Netherlands lose, they will move up two places to 23rd
- A Brazilian win could even result in a three-place rise to 22nd
The World Rugby Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 GMT