A number of milestones can be reached over the course of the weekend, with Richie McCaw and Mils Muliaina to become the most capped All Blacks of all time in what could be a triple celebration for New Zealand with Graham Henry one Test win away from 100 as a coach and Dan Carter only 20 points shy of Jonny Wilkinson’s record as the world’s top point scorer.
South Africa are only five points shy of 1,000 points under Peter de Villiers and the race will be on to break that barrier in the early exchanges against Scotland, while Australia need a few more – 44 – to reach the same milestone in Robbie Deans’ reign.
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If this southern hemisphere triumvirate all taste victory on Saturday then there are unlikely to be wholesale changes in the IRB World Rankings, unless Samoa, Argentina or Fiji can spring a surprise against their higher ranked opponents England, France and Wales respectively.
New Zealand can only improve their rating at the top by a maximum of 0.15 with another emphatic win over Ireland, so their cushion over South Africa could be reduced slightly – still leaving it over 5.5 points – if they run up the points against Scotland.
An Australian victory over 12th ranked Italy in Florence will have no impact on their rating, but if South Africa suffer a first loss to Scotland since 2002 then the Wallabies will regain the second spot they lost after a 35-18 defeat to England last weekend.
England, like the Wallabies, cannot improve their rating if they preserve their unbeaten record against Samoa, but if the islanders triumph at Twickenham and France beat Argentina then Les Bleus will regain the mantle as the leading northern hemisphere nation in the rankings.
Battle for third spot
Australia, though, could drop as low as fifth - their worst ever standing since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003 - if they lose by more than 15 points to Italy and England overcome Samoa and France defeat Argentina by a similar margin.
Ireland have the potential to reach third as well, although for this to happen they would need big upsets in Italy, France and England and for them to also cause a huge upset by beating New Zealand by the same margin.
Ireland, who last briefly occupied third spot on 20 November 2006, have never beaten the All Blacks before in 23 attempts and were swept aside 66-28 when the sides last met in June, albeit playing with 14 men after Jamie Heaslip was sent off early on.
A New Zealand victory and defeats for England and France at home will see the latter’s conquerors Argentina surge three places up the rankings to fourth, their highest position for two years.
Scotland, the side Argentina climbed above last week after beating Italy 22-16, cannot slip from eighth even with an emphatic loss to South Africa and a convincing Welsh win over Fiji in the Friday night encounter at the Millennium Stadium.
Dream start for Dixon and Georgia?
Fiji, though, could fall one place to 11th with a loss by more than 15 points with Samoa the beneficiaries, even if they suffer a similarly heavy loss to England. If Fiji can repeat their win over Wales at Rugby World Cup 2007, albeit by a bigger margin, then they could climb above their hosts into ninth.
However, if Samoa can stun the Twickenham crowd with a big victory then Fiji could remain 10th with their fellow islanders jumping two places to ninth to effectively swap places with Wales and condemn Warren Gatland’s side to a position outside the top 10 for the first time since the rankings were introduced in October 2003.
The top 12 sides in the rankings are not the only ones in action in Europe this weekend with Georgia hosting Canada in Tbilisi and Namibia travelling to Coimbra to play Portugal. Canada are the highest ranked of this quartet at 14th and cannot improve that standing even with a big win over Georgia.
The same is true of Namibia, ranked two places higher than Portugal at 20th, with a victory for the African side meaning both teams will remain in those positions. A Portugal win, though, will take them above Uruguay and could see them swap places with Namibia if they triumph by more than 15 points.
Georgia, playing their first match under new coach Richie Dixon, will climb one place to 16th – at the expense of Tonga who play Italy A in a friendly on Friday – with victory, although Canada will only swap places with USA beneath them if they lose by more than 15 points in Tbilisi.
Regaining lost ground in ENC
There are also four matches in the European Nations Cup 2012, all bar one of which can impact the IRB World Rankings, the exception being the Division 2D encounter between Greece and Cyprus in Athens as neither are yet Full Member Unions of the International Rugby Board and therefore not ranked.
Two of these matches are in Division 1B with Germany, Poland, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic all hoping to taste victory in their quest to join the likes of Rugby World Cup 2011 bound Georgia and Russia in the competition’s top tier come 2012.
Poland will travel to Frankfurt for a first meeting with Germany since 2004 looking to regain the four places they lost on the back of losing to Moldova last weekend. Another loss will not see them fall from 42nd, but victory could see them rise as many as five or six places.
Germany cannot improve their standing of 30th even with an emphatic victory and could even slip a place depending on the outcome of the match between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic in Amsterdam.
A German loss, though, will guarantee them their lowest ever position since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003 with a fall of eight places to 38th on the cards if Poland emerge victorious with a margin greater than 15 points.
Big gains at stake in Belgrade
The Czech Republic will be another side eager to claw back places lost seven days ago and if they can beat their hosts in Amsterdam they will return to their previous standing of 31st. An emphatic win could take them to 30th, while also condemning the Dutch to a three place fall to 40th.
However, if the Netherlands emerge victorious on home soil – and avenge a 54-12 loss when the sides last met in 2002 – then they can improve their 37th rating by three or four places with the Czechs falling one or two more places.
The final European Nations Cup match of the weekend brings together the two lowest ranked sides in action with 71st ranked Serbia hosting Switzerland, ranked nine places above them, in Belgrade and hoping for a third successive win in the fixture.
If Serbia can achieve this hat-trick of wins then they will climb a minimum of six places and potentially as high as 63rd with a victory by more than 15 points, a scenario which would see Switzerland take over their previous position of 71st.
Serbia, though, can slide as many as six places with defeat in this Division 2B encounter with Switzerland preserving their 100 percent record in the ENC 2012 and climbing between five and seven places depending on the margin of victory.
The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.