Battle for top four spot resumes in rankings

(IRB.COM) Friday 24 February 2012
 
 Battle for top four spot resumes in rankings
Can Sam Warburton lead Wales to victory at Twickenham?

The last time Wales tasted victory at Twickenham they went on to win the RBS Six Nations Grand Slam, something the class of 2011 will hope is a good omen as two of the unbeaten teams in this year’s Championship come face to face on Saturday.

Wales will not only claim the Triple Crown if they repeat the 26-19 victory of February 2008, but also climb above England into fifth in the IRB World Rankings. The only chance of climbing higher this weekend is if France lose to Scotland at Murrayfield for the first time since 2006.

However, for Wales to climb into what will be the top band of seeds for the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool Allocation Draw in December, they not only need France to lose but to do so by more than 15 points or for the Dragons to beat England by that margin.

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Wales haven’t managed that margin of victory since the late 1970s, while 12 years have passed since Scotland – who have lost their last five Six Nations matches to France – overcame Les Bleus by such a margin.

With captain Sam Warburton returning from injury and fellow young guns Leigh Halfpenny and Jonathan Davies having caught the eye in this year’s Championship, Wales are favourites to taste victory at Twickenham.

If they fail to do so, though, they will not slip from their ranking of sixth, regardless of the margin of defeat, but could be left sitting just seven tenths above Argentina. England cannot improve their position with victory, unless third ranked France lose.

In these circumstances, a French loss will see them fall out of the top four, slipping below South Africa and England who would take on the mantle as the leading northern hemisphere nation in the rankings.

Scotland have the biggest potential for gain this weekend, if they can find a way to cross the try-line and upset Les Bleus, with a victory lifting them two places to ninth, above Tonga and Samoa. They could climb another place if Ireland lose heavily to Italy in Dublin.

New lows for Ireland and Scotland?

Italy have not beaten Ireland since they joined the Six Nations, although they did come close in Rome 12 months ago. If they can break their duck then they will climb above a losing Scotland to 11th, condemning the Scots to their lowest ever ranking.

Ireland will still retain eighth place unless they were to lose by more than 15 points at the Aviva Stadium, a scenario which would see them fall below Tonga and slip out of what will be the second band of seeds for the Pool Allocation Draw.

Ninth place would become the lowest position occupied by Ireland since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003, but it could theoretically get worse if Scotland were to also beat France because this would drop the Irish to 10th.

The Six Nations, though, is not the only competition which can have an impact on the IRB World Rankings this weekend with four matches in the European Nations Cup involving Belgium, Georgia, the Netherlands, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Spain and Ukraine.

Georgia will be looking to bounce back from their first ENC 2012 loss, against Spain last weekend, when Portugal visit Tbilisi on Saturday, although a victory will have no impact on their rating or position of 15th as a result of the 10 places and 11.41 points separating the two nations.

However, if Portugal can record a first win over Georgia since 2005 then the Lelos will slip another place regardless of the final score, swapping places with Fiji. Portugal can climb as many as three places, depending on the margin of victory and other results.

Five place gains in ENC on cards

Romania lie second in Division 1A, three points behind Georgia, and this weekend travel to Sochi to face fellow RWC 2011 participants Russia. The Oaks must win by more than 15 points to climb above USA to 17th in the rankings, but any defeat should result in a fall for Russia.

A small margin of defeat will drop them back below Namibia to 21st, but a greater one could see them fall as low as 24th depending on the outcome of Portugal’s encounter with defending champions Georgia in Tbilisi.

Romania will remain 18th unless they lose emphatically in Russia, which would see their hosts climb above them and leave them potentially just seven tenths above a Spanish outfit tasting victory in the Ukraine.

Ukraine have yet to taste victory in the European Nations Cup 2012, but if they can end a run of five successive defeats then a climb of between three and five places is possible, taking them back into the top 30. Spain’s fall could be equally as costly with defeat.

Another nation who could climb as many as five places are the Netherlands if they beat Belgium by more than 15 points in their Division 1B encounter. A smaller margin of victory in Brussels will still lift them four places to 41st.

Belgium are currently ranked 20 places above their visitors so a victory will have no impact on their position or rating, although it would take them to the top of the Division 1B standings. However, a defeat could see them slip as low as 30th.

The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.