Northern hemisphere bragging rights on the line in Six Nations

Wales and Ireland could both replace England as the highest-ranked northern hemisphere team when the Six Nations continues this weekend, while significant milestones are within the reach of Spain and Portugal if results go their way in the Rugby Europe Championship.

Wales go in search of what would be their record-equalling eighth consecutive win in the Championship when they take on Ireland in the opening match of round two of the Six Nations, knowing that victory at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin could also see them finish the weekend above their European rivals in the World Rugby Men's Rankings.

For Ireland, third place is also possible but England will be doing all they can to hang onto their position behind South Africa and New Zealand by winning back control of the Calcutta Cup. Eddie Jones' side, showing five changes to the line-up that lost to France in round one, meet Scotland in the second of the Saturday kick-offs in what is sure to be a partisan atmosphere at Murrayfield.

Scotland are also looking to bounce back from a loss after their 19-12 defeat to Ireland in Dublin last weekend, while on Sunday it is the turn of France and Italy, teams who enjoyed contrasting fortunes in round one. 

We take a look at the World Rugby Men's Rankings permutations and some key facts and stats from all three Six Nations matches, as well as those in the second round of the Rugby Europe Championship, where Spain and Portugal hope to make it a weekend to remember for Iberian rugby.

SIX NATIONS

IRELAND (5) v WALES (4) (Saturday)
Head-to-head
Played: 129 – Wales leads 69-53 with seven draws
Points for: Ireland 1,475 / Wales 1,578
Average score: Ireland 11-12 Wales
First meeting: 28 January, 1882 – Ireland 0-0 Wales* – Lansdowne Road, Dublin
Last meeting: 7 September, 2019 – Ireland 19-10 Wales – Aviva Stadium, Dublin
*Wales won by two goals

Team news

Injuries to Caelan Doris (head) and Garry Ringrose (hand) have forced Ireland head coach Andy Farrell to make two changes to his side. CJ Stander moves to number eight jersey, with Peter O'Mahony promoted from the bench in a rejigged back row. Robbie Henshaw comes into the side to partner Bundee Aki in midfield

Nick Tompkins comes into the Wales midfield for his first international start as Wayne Pivac makes just one change to the starting XV that defeated Italy 42-0. Tompkins' impressive showing off the bench against the Azzurri sees him promoted to the 13 jersey with George North reverting back to his normal position on the wing. Johnny McNicholl is named among the replacements. 

In brief

  • Wales have won their last eight matches in the Six Nations. Victory against Ireland would see them equal their best winning run in the history of the Five or Six Nations, which they set between 1970-73 (eight wins)
  • Wales have won away in Ireland three times in the Six Nations (2000, 2008 and 2012), each of them by a margin of four points or fewer
  • The home team has won just eight of the last 17 games in this match-up over the course of the past decade
  • The top three leading points scorer in the opening round were either Irish or Welsh, as Johnny Sexton (19), Josh Adams (15 and Dan Biggar (13) were the only players to score more than 12 points
  • Ireland won 17 turnovers in last year's Championship, they managed 10 in last weekend's win over Scotland alone – twice as many as any other side in round one

Rankings predictor

  • Whoever wins will be the higher ranked of the two teams
  • Ireland cannot fall from fifth place even if they lose by more than 15 points as France are unable to improve their rating by beating Italy
  • Wales will climb one to third if they win and England lose to Scotland
  • Ireland can also occupy third spot if they beat Wales and England lose by more than 15 points

SCOTLAND (9) v ENGLAND (3) (Saturday)
Head-to-head
Played: 137 – England leads 75-43 with 19 draws
Points for: Scotland 1,225 / England 1,674
Average score: Scotland 9-12 England
First meeting: 27 March, 1871 – Scotland* 0-0 England – Raeburn Place, Edinburgh
Last meeting: 16 March, 2019 – England 38-38 Scotland – Twickenham
* Scotland won by one goal

Team news

Gregor Townsend has made just the one change to the Scotland team that took to the field in Dublin last weekend with Magnus Bradbury replacing Nick Haining at number eight. Bradbury scored a try in his only previous start at the back of the pack – the dramatic 38-38 draw between these sides in last season's Calcutta Cup encounter at Twickenham. Haining drops to the bench.

England coach Eddie Jones has made five changes from the side which came off second-best against France in Paris. The bulk of the changes come in the forwards with Mako Vunipola returning to the front row at loose-head, as Joe Marler misses out on a place in the match-day 23. There is also no place for Charlie Ewels in the squad, while Joe Launchbury returns from injury to take a place on the bench, where he will be joined by Courtney Lawes who loses the blindside flanker role to Lewis Ludlam. In the backs, Willi Heinz gets the nod over Ben Youngs after helping to spur a second-half fightback, while Jonathan Joseph starts in place of the injured Manu Tuilagi at outside centre. Tom Dunn and Ben Earl could be in line for their debuts off the bench as a reward for their club form.

In brief

  • Last year's 38-38 draw at Twickenham was the highest-scoring draw in test history
  • England have failed to win either of the last two fixtures against Scotland – the only time in 20 meetings this has happened
  • Scotland are without a win in their last five Six Nations matches, having won nine of their previous 14 in the competition
  • England have only lost their first two matches in a Championship season once (2005)
  • England have lost five of their last seven away matches in the Six Nations
  • Owen Farrell will make his 35th start at centre for England – the same number of starts he has at fly-half

Rankings predictor

  • Scotland will climb above Japan into eighth with any margin of victory
  • Seventh is possible if a Scotland win comes in tandem with a France loss to Italy
  • England will surrender third place if they lose and Wales win, or if they lose by more than 15 points and Ireland win

FRANCE (6) v ITALY (12) (Sunday)
Head-to-head
Played: 42 – France leads 39-3
Points for: France 1,270 / Italy 481
Average score: France 30-12 Italy
First meeting: 17 October, 1937 – France 43-5 Italy – Parc des Princes, Paris
Last meeting: 30 August, 2019 – France 47-19 Italy – Stade de France, Paris

Team news

World Rugby U20 Championship-winning captain Arthur Vincent will make his first test start after being named to face Italy on Sunday in the only change made by Fabien Galthié to his France team. Vincent comes in for the injured Virimi Vakatawa, who suffered a tricep injury in the opening win over England, and the Montpellier man will partner Gaël Fickou in the midfield.

Galthié's opposite number, Franco Smith, has made just one change as well, as Jayden Hayward comes in at full-back with Matteo Minozzi switching to the wing and Leonardo Sarto dropping out. Federico Ruzza comes onto the bench in place of Marco Lazzaroni, with Giulio Bisegni coming in to fill Hayward’s spot.

In brief

  • France have won their last four tests on home soil, their longest winning run since a five-game streak in 2010 – the year they won their last Six Nations title
  • Italy's only win against Les Bleus in France was 40-32 in 1997 in the old FIRA Championship
  • Italy's defeat to Wales last week extended their record run of Championship losses to 23
  • Italy's last win in the Six Nations was against Ireland in March 2013
  • Italy have never won in any of their 10 Six Nations trips to Paris

Rankings predictor

  • Neither team can improve their position this weekend
  • However, France will drop below Australia in defeat and also Scotland if they beat England
  • Italy will drop below Georgia if they lose and the Lelos beat Spain

RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP

BELGIUM (27) v RUSSIA (20) (Saturday)
Head-to-head
Played: 7 – Russia leads 7-0
Points for: Belgium 110 / Russia 263
Average score: Belgium 16-36 Russia
First meeting: 11 October, 1992 – Russia 17-11 Belgium – Stade du Heysel, Brussels
Last meeting: 6 February, 2019 – Russia 64-7 Belgium – Central Stadium, Sochi

Team news

Belgium have made six changes of personnel and one positional switch from the starting XV that went down to a 23-17 defeat to Portugal in their opening game of Rugby Europe Championship 2020. Loose-head Alexis Cuffolo comes into the front row, Tom Herenger and Gillian Benoy form a new second-row partnership and the Thomas de Molder is promoted from the bench to line up at number eight. In the backs, Antoine Vassart replaces Ryan Godsmark at fly-half, Thomas Wallraff comes in on the right wing with Craig Dowsett shifting to outside centre.

Prop Valery Morozov returns to bolster the Russia front row in a Bears team showing seven changes to the one beaten at home to Spain last weekend, including a shift from full-back to wing for captain Vasily Artemyev. 

In brief

  • Russia have won all seven previous fixtures against Belgium
  • Belgium are on a six-match losing streak
  • Russia have only won one of their last 10 matches (20-0 v Namibia in June 2019)
  • The Bears won 24-17 on their last visit to Brussels in 2017 but the last two encounters in Russia have resulted in a much bigger margin of victory (41 points in 2018 and 57 in 2019)

Rankings predictor

  • Russia cannot improve their position even if they win by more than 15 points and Romania above them lose by the same margin
  • Russia could actually win by that margin and still fall a place if Portugal beat Romania as emphatically
  • However, Russia will fall between four and five places with defeat, depending on the margin
  • Belgium cannot improve their position even with a win by more than 15 points; however, they will fall below Germany if they lose by more than 15 points

PORTUGAL (22) v ROMANIA (19) (Saturday)
Head-to-head
Played: 24 – Romania leads 21-3
Points for: Portugal 233 / Romania 758
Average score: Portugal 10-32 Romania
First meeting: 28 May, 1967 – Portugal 46-6 Romania – Stadium Tapadinho, Lisbon
Last meeting: 10 November, 2018 – Romania 36-6 Portugal – Arena Zimbrilor, Baia Mare

Team news

Boosted by the availability of some of his French-based players, Portugal head coach Patrice Lagisquet has made six changes to the team that defeated Belgium in round one. Clermont Auvergne hooker Mike Tadjer comes into a new-look front row that also includes Francisco Fernandes at tight-head. Montauban's Juan Sousa is a new addition to the second row, while Manuel Eusebio is selected at number eight. Scrum-half Duarte Azevedo forms a new half-back partnership with João Lima as he starts for only the second time in his fifth international. Rodrigo Marta is back on the right wing in the only other change to the backline.

Romania's most experienced captain, Mihai Macovei, returns to lead a side showing seven changes from last weekend's defeat to Georgia. The blindside flanker wins his 86th cap and his 53rd as captain in a back row that has another new face in number eight, Kamil Sobota. Ionel Badiu and Ovidiu Cojocaru join Alexandru Tarus in the front row at loose-head and hooker respectively, while Adrian Motoc comes into the second row. Tudor Boldor starts at 10 for only the second time in an Oaks jersey, while the other change is in midfield where Clermont Auvergne espoirs player Taylor Gontineac partners up with the vastly experienced Florin Valicu.

In brief

  • Portugal's only defeat in their last nine matches was 26-24 away to Brazil in November 2019
  • Romania have won the last six encounters dating back to 2011
  • Centre Florin Vlaicu is 49 points away from becoming the first Romanian to score 1,000 points in test rugby

Rankings predictor

  • Romania will climb above Uruguay if they win by more than 15 points
  • Portugal will drop below Canada and Namibia again if they lose on home soil – and also the Netherlands if the margin is by more than 15 points
  • Portugal will climb above Hong Kong with victory but must win by more than 15 points or hope that Russia fail to beat to Belgium to return to the top 20 for the first time since November 2011
  • Romania will still be the higher ranked of the nations, albeit only by 1.51 rating points if Portugal win by more than 15 points

SPAIN (16) v GEORGIA (13) (Sunday)
Head-to-head
Played: 20 – Georgia leads 16-3 with one draw
Points for: Spain 290 / Georgia 614
Average score: Spain 15-31 Georgia
First meeting: 4 March, 2000 – Spain 36-32 Georgia – Ciudad Universitaria, Madrid
Last meeting: 17 February, 2019 – Georgia 24-10 Spain – Avchala Stadium, Tbilisi

Team news

Spain have made eight changes to their starting XV – three of them positional – as they go in search of a first win over Georgia in eight years.  Beziers hooker Marco Pinto, Blackheath second-rower Josh Peters and  Nevers' Fred Quercy are the new additions in the pack with Lucas Guillame wearing the number five jersey instead of four. A reshuffle of the back-three sees John Bell line up on the left wing, having played full-back last week, while Jordi Jorba switches from the left wing to right. Lucas Rubio makes his second start at fly-half in his ninth test appearance, while Andrea Rabago comes in for Thibaut Alvarez at inside centre.

World Rugby U20 Championship 2017 graduate Akaki Tabutsadze will make his debut for the Lelos after being named on the left wing in place of the injured Mirian Modebadze. Sandro Todua lines up on the opposite wing, Tamaz Mchedlidze starts at centre and there is a positional switch in the back three with Soso Matiashvii moving to full-back. Upfront, Levan Chilachava replaces Beka Gigashvili at tight-head, while Shalva Sutiashvili comes into the second row.

In brief

  • Spain's last victory over the Lelos (25-18) came on 11 February, 2012 in Madrid
  • Georgia are on an 11-game winning run in the Rugby Europe Championship dating back to their 8-7 loss to Romania in March 2017
  • Spain are one win away from setting a new record for consecutive test wins (nine)

Rankings predictor

  • Georgia will climb above Italy if they win and the Azzurri lose to France in Paris
  • Spain will swap places with USA below if they lose by more than 15 points
  • Georgia will fall two or three places in deefat, depending on the margin
  • They would still be the higher ranked of the two providing the margin if by 15 points or less
  • Spain currently occupy their highest position of 16th but would move to 14th if they win by more than 15 points

The World Rugby Men’s Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 GMT