The battle to claim a top four spot in the IRB World Rankings in time for the Rugby World Cup 2015 Pool Allocation Draw in December will take another twist this weekend with England, Wales or France all in contention to occupy fourth spot at the end of the RBS Six Nations.
England currently complete the top four with the southern hemisphere triumvirate of New Zealand, Australia and South Africa after beating France 24-22 last weekend.
However, even victory over Ireland at Twickenham on Saturday may not be enough to retain that position.
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The only way England will stay fourth is if Wales beat France at the Millennium Stadium with a winning margin of 15 points or less, a scenario which could see the two rivals separated by just seven hundredths of a rating point.
A more convincing Welsh victory at the Millennium Stadium would not only clinch the Grand Slam but lift them above England, regardless of the margin of victory at Twickenham, to equal their highest ever ranking.
If Wales do climb to fourth, a position they occupied before France ended their RWC 2011 dreams, then they could do so by as little as five hundredths from England, setting the scene for an interesting month of tour matches involving all the Tier 1 nations in June.
France will return to fourth with any victory and could actually climb three places this weekend if they beat Wales by more than 15 points, assuming the place they began the Six Nations in before the draw with Ireland and loss to England saw them fall to sixth.
Les Bleus cannot slip from sixth place even with a heavy loss, as England would fall below them into seventh if they suffer a second loss at Twickenham in the 2012 Championship with Ireland climbing to fifth.
It is not all good news for Ireland, though, as a loss would see them swap places again with Argentina to lie eighth, equalling their lowest ranking. There is no danger of slipping further as even an emphatic loss would still leave them more than three rating points above Tonga in ninth.
Wooden spoon decider
Wales, like England, could also end the weekend ranked seventh depending on the margin of defeats for them and their neighbours, a scenario which would rub further salt into their disappointment at missing out on the Grand Slam.
The wooden spoon will be the ‘prize’ nobody wants in the opening match of Super Saturday with Italy looking to make it three wins on the spin in Rome against Scotland and the Scots seeking only a third win in Rome since the Azzurri joined the Six Nations.
Scotland will return to the top 10 with any margin of victory lifting them above Samoa, but by contrast a defeat would see them swap places with Italy and fall to 12th, their lowest position since the IRB World Rankings were introduced in October 2003.
If Italy fail to avoid the wooden spoon in Jacques Brunel’s first Six Nations as national coach then they will also slip one place to 13th, a position they have only occupied once before, at the introduction of the rankings.
Canada will be the beneficiaries of Italy’s whitewash and will equal their highest ever position in the rankings, one they occupied briefly in September after beating the higher ranked Tonga during the RWC 2011 pool stages.
This weekend also sees five matches in the European Nations Cup with the only certainty across them being that a win for Georgia over neighbours Russia will not have any impact on their rating or position of 15th.
Plenty at stake in European Nations Cup
Georgia, on the verge of wrapping up another ENC title, are seven places and 10.14 points above their visitors and will remain that way with victory, although Russia could actually rise one place to 21st if Spain lose at home to Romania.
The Lelos will, though, fall one below Fiji if they lose to Russia with their fellow RWC 2011 participants climbing as high as 19th, depending on the outcome of the Spain-Russia encounter.
Romania will climb back above USA in to 17th, regaining the place they lost with defeat to Georgia last weekend, with victory, condemning 19th ranked Spain to a fall of between one and three places depending on the final score.
Another side who will enjoy a one place climb with victory are Portugal, a win in the Ukraine lifting them above Chile in 23rd. Their hosts will fall one or two places depending on the margin and the outcome of Germany’s encounter with Belgium in Division 1B.
Germany rose four places to 32nd on the back of a narrow victory in the Czech Republic and could climb into the top 30 if they can beat higher ranked Belgium. A loss though will see them relinquish some of the places they gained last week.
The remaining ENC fixture, in Division 2B, has the potential for the biggest climbs and falls of the weekend with 28 places separating Switzerland and Slovenia. A Swiss victory will have no impact on the rating of either sides, but a Slovenia win certainly will.
Switzerland will slide a minimum of seven places with defeat on home soil, while Slovenia will rocket between six and 10 places depending on the margin of victory. A win by more than 15 points will see them jump to 67th.
The IRB World Rankings update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.