Wales and France seek pool draw boost

This weekend's matches could see changes in the top band of seeds for the Rugby World Cup 2023 pool draw, with Wales and France both able to climb into the top four in the World Rugby Men's Rankings.

Following the postponement of Ireland's game with Italy, there are just two matches to look forward to in the Six Nations this weekend with England taking on Wales at Twickenham and Scotland at home to Grand Slam-chasing France in a truncated round four.

There is, however, a full programme of fixtures in the Rugby Europe Championship, where defending champions Georgia have to negotiate a tricky-looking trip to Portugal, Russia host Romania and Belgium welcome Spain to Brussels knowing a win would do wonders for their bid to avoid relegation to the Rugby Europe Trophy.

In the Trophy, a top versus bottom encounter between the Netherlands and Lithuania is the only scheduled fixture.

All six matches count towards the World Rugby Men's Rankings as the 12 directly qualified teams bid to be as seeded as high as possible by the time the Rugby World Cup 2023 pool draw takes place in November.

VIEW RANKINGS >>

For Wales and France, a place in the top band of seeds – the teams ranked one to four – is possible this weekend, while Scotland could move in the other direction and drop into the third band of seeds, for the lowest ranked four teams among the 12 who qualified directly for France 2023, if they lose at home to Les Bleus.

We take a look at some of the team news, facts and figures and potential rankings permutations.

SIX NATIONS

ENGLAND (3) v WALES (6) (Saturday)

Head-to-head
Played: 134 – England leads 63-59, with 12 draws
Points for: England 1,758 / 1,593
Average score: England 13-12 Wales
First meeting: 16 February, 1881 – England 0-0 Wales – Rectory Field, Blackheath*
Last meeting: 17 August, 2019 – Wales 13-6 England – Principality Stadium, Cardiff
*England won by 8 goals to nil

Team news

Anthony Watson and Mark Wilson will make their first appearances of the year as Eddie Jones makes two changes to England’s starting XV. Watson comes in on the wing for Bath team-mate Jonathan Joseph, while Wilson replaces the injured Sam Underhill in the back-row. Both players will be appearing in their first England game since the Rugby World Cup 2019 final defeat to South Africa on 2 November.

Wales coach Wayne Pivac recalls fit-again Josh Navidi and Liam Williams to a starting line-up showing four changes in total from the one that took to the field against France in round three. Williams, who has been sidelined for four months with an ankle injury, is named on the left-wing while Navidi returns to the number eight position after missing the last two months. The other changes see a start for Tomos Williams at scrum-half and Rob Evans at prop.

In brief

  • With a win over Wales, England would record their fifth Triple Crown success of the Six Nations era, putting them level with Ireland
  • England have tasted defeat just twice in their last 24 Six Nations matches at home, including a 19-12 defeat to Wales in February 2012
  • Wales haven't lost three Championship matches in a row since a run of five straight defeats between 2006-07
  • Of the 20 Six Nations meetings between the sides, England have won 13 games to Wales' seven
  • Alun Wyn Jones is due to set another Welsh record by becoming his country’s most-capped player in the Championship with 57 appearances

Rankings predictor

  • England cannot catch New Zealand as they can only earn a maximum of 0.23 points
  • Wales will be the higher-ranked of the two teams in third if they win by more than 15 points – by a mere 0.08 points
  • A smaller margin of victory would be enough to lift Wales one place to fifth if France fail to win at Murrayfield
  • Wales cannot fall from sixth even with a loss by more than 15 points – and could actually climb above France if they suffer a loss by the same margin in Scotland
  • England will remain in the top band of seeds for RWC 2023 pool draw, even if they lose by more than 15 points

SCOTLAND (8) v FRANCE (5) (Sunday)

Head-to-head
Played: 95 – France leads 55-37, with three draws
Points for: Scotland 1180 / France 1401
Average score: Scotland 12-15 France
First meeting: 22 January, 1910 – Scotland 27-0 France – Inverleith, Edinburgh
Last meeting: 24 August, 2019 – Scotland 17-14 France – Murrayfield, Edinburgh

Team news

Hooker Fraser Brown will reach a half-century of test caps after being recalled to Scotland's starting line-up. Brown's return is one of three changes to the pack with Grant Gilchrist and Nick Haining selected in the second row and at number eight respectively. Fly-half Duncan Weir is in line to make his first Championship appearance since 2017 after being named on the bench as back-up to Adam Hastings.

For France, dangerous winger Damian Penaud and prop Jefferson Poirot are the only news faces in the starting XV. Penaud has not featured for Les Bleus since RWC 2019 because of a calf injury. He replaces Teddy Thomas, while Poirot gets his chance at loose-head as Cyril Baille is injured. 

In brief

  • France last tasted victory (19-17) at Murrayfield on this day in 2014
  • Scotland have lost each of their last three home matches in the Championship
  • France last won three Six Nations games in a row in 2010 – the year they won the Grand Slam
  • Six of the last eight meetings in the Six Nations have been decided by a converted try or less

Rankings predictor

  • Scotland cannot improve their ranking with victory
  • Scotland will swap places with Japan if they lose at home, dropping out of the second band of seeds for RWC 2023
  • They will also fall below Argentina if they lose by more than 15 points
  • France will climb above Ireland if they win by this margin and be in the top band of seeds unless Wales also win by more than 15 points

RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP

BELGIUM (27) v SPAIN (18) (Saturday)

Head-to-head
Played: 17 – Spain leads 14-2, with one draw
Points for: Belgium 109 / 501 Spain
Average score: Belgium 6-30 Spain
First meeting: 11 April, 1954 –Spain 14-0 Belgium – Treviso, Italy
Last meeting: 10 March, 2019 – Spain 47-9 Belgium – Estadio Nacional Universidad Complutense, Madrid

Team news

Belgium coach Guillaume Ajac has recalled 12 of the side that pulled off a shock 38-12 win against Russia in round two, with only captain and hooker Thomas Dienst, winger Thomas Wallraf and centre Guillaume Piron retaining their places from the Black Devils' last outing, the 78-6 loss to Georgia. Veteran forward Mathieu Verschelden, who scored a try off the bench against Russia and is now in his 15th year of international rugby, comes into the second row to win his 45th cap at the age of 34. In doing so, Verschelden becomes Belgium's joint-third most-capped player of all time behind Dienst and utility back Alan Williams, who will be making their 54th appearance. In the backs, outside-centre Ervin Muric makes his first appearance for almost exactly a year, while Nathan Bontems gets his second start of the season, albeit on the right-wing not at centre, where he played in the opening round defeat to Portugal.

Spain coach Santiago Santos has reacted to his side's 24-7 defeat to Romania a fortnight ago by making wholesale changes to his starting XV. The front-row of Thierry Futeu, Marco Pinto and Alberto Blanco stays intact and Afa Tauli and Ignacio Contardi get another run out at number eight and on the left-wing respectively, but the rest of the line-up has been given an overhaul. Lucas Guillame and Lucas Rubio retain their places but are given different roles at blindside flanker and fly-half. Among the changes in the pack is a first appearance of the season for second-row Manuel Mora, the day before his 35th birthday. 

In brief

  • Belgium’s two victories have both come in Brussels, in 2006 and 2018
  • Belgium are unbeaten in their last three fixtures at home to Los Leones
  • The home side has won in six out of the last seven meetings, the other was a draw

Rankings predictor

  • Spain will swap places with a victorious Romania side, even if Los Leones win in Belgium
  • Victory will lift Belgium above Brazil – and also the Netherlands if they fail to beat Lithuania in the Rugby Europe Trophy
  • Belgium can climb as high as 24th but this would require them to win by more than 15 points, the Dutch fail to win and Russia to lose by the same margin
  • Belgium cannot fall from 27th even with a heavy defeat
  • Spain can close the gap to Uruguay above to just 0.08 if they win by more than 15 points

RUSSIA (24) v ROMANIA (19) Saturday)

Head-to-head
Played: 23 – Romania leads 16-6, with one draw
Points for: Russia 329 / Romania 567
Average score: Russia 14-25 Romania
First meeting: 7 May, 1994 – Romania 30-0 Russia – Stadionul Parcul Copilului, Bucharest
Last meeting: 9 March, 2019 – Romania 22-20 Russia – Stadionul Municipal, Botosani

Team news

Back-row Tagir Gadzhiev returns from injury to make his first appearance since Rugby World Cup 2019. Gadzhiev was one of the tournament's standout performers but a hamstring injury has prevented him from playing until now. Bears head coach Lyn Jones is also able to recall some of his other 'big guns' in record caps holder and leading fly-half Yury Kushnarev and second-row Andrei Ostrikov. Victor Gresev captains the side in his 103rd appearance.

Having won his first match in charge of Romania last time out against Spain, Oaks head coach Andy Robinson makes three changes for the trip to Russia. Adrian Motoc moves from the second-row to blindside flanker to accommodate the arrival of Valentin Poparlan, while in the backs there are changes on the wing and in midfield with Robert Neagu getting his first start for more than five years and Moa Maliepo making his first-ever start.

In brief

  • Romania have won the last four meetings since a 16-13 loss in Krasnodar in February 2015
  • Romania won 30-10 on their last visit to Russia in March 2017
  • Russia have failed to score more than 20 points in their last 11 fixtures

Rankings predictor

  • Romania will climb above Spain into 18th place if both sides are victorious
  • A victory by more than 15 points would also lift Romania above Uruguay
  • Russia will climb at least three places if they beat Romania, four if Portugal also lose to Georgia
  • Russia will fall one place if they lose by more than 15 points and the Netherlands beat Lithuania by the same margin
  • Romania cannot drop any lower than their present position of 19th

PORTUGAL (20) v GEORGIA (12) (Saturday)

Head-to-head
Played: 20 – Georgia leads 14-4, with two draws
Points for: Portugal 268 / Georgia 469
Average score: Portugal 13-23 Georgia
First meeting: 19 April, 1997 – Portugal 21-17 Georgia – Estadio Universitario, Lisbon
Last meeting: 13 February, 2016 – Portugal 3-29 Georgia – Jamor, Lisbon

Team news

Patrice Lagisquet has reacted to Portugal's narrow defeat to Russia in round three by making five changes for this match at Stade Jean Bouin in Paris. Geoffrey Moise, Mike Tadjer and Diogo Ferreira make up an entirely new front row, Luis Batista comes into the second row and, in the only change to the backs, Joao Belo is given the scrum-half duties.

Georgia name two debutants in their squad with uncapped pair, Lasha Lomidze and Tornike Jalagonia, set to become the latest graduates from the World Rugby U20 Championship after being named on the bench. Elsewhere, Giorgi Tetrashvili gets his first start at loosehead since June 2018, while scrum-half Giorgi Begadze starts for the first time this year. Centre Lasha Malaghuradze wins his 99th cap and will join the list of Lelos centurions if he gets a run-out against Russia on 14 March.

In brief

  • Georgia are unbeaten in their last 13 meetings with Portugal (11 wins, two draws) since Portugal won 18-14 in Lisbon in February 2005
  • Portugal scored 20 points or more in four out of the first five meetings but haven't achieved that since then
  • Georgia are bidding to extend their winning run in the Rugby Europe Championship to 14 matches

Rankings predictor

  • Georgia cannot improve their position even with an emphatic victory as they trail Fiji by 3.51 rating points
  • Portugal will fall one or two places in defeat, depending on the margin and the outcome of Russia’s match with Romania
  • Portugal will fall one place if they lose and Russia win – two if Os Lobos’ lose by more than 15 points with Hong Kong the beneficiary
  • Georgia will drop below Tonga and Italy in defeat
  • They will also fall another place if the margin is by more than 15 points

RUGBY EUROPE TROPHY

NETHERLANDS (25) v LITHUANIA (44) (Saturday)

Head-to-head
Played: 5 – Netherlands leads 4-1
Points for: Netherlands 162 / Lithuania 61
Average score: Netherlands 32-12 Lithuania
First meeting: 14 May, 2005 – Netherlands 51-11 Lithuania – Klaipeda
Last meeting: 8 June, 2019 – Netherlands 50-3 Lithuania – Panevezys

In brief

  • The Netherlands are on a five-match winning run dating back to this time last year
  • Lithuania's only victory in the head-to-head was 6-3 back in June 2009

Rankings predictor

  • With no rating points on offer for victory, the Netherlands cannot improve their position unless Russia also lose by more than 15 points at home to Romania
  • The Netherlands will fall at least once place – two if Belgium avoid defeat to Spain – if they lose this top versus bottom encounter
  • Lithuania would climb four places to 40th with a draw
  • A climb of six or seven places is possible for Lithuania depending on the margin of victory

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