After an abundance of international rugby through November, this weekend’s fixture list features just two Tests - but for Wales there is nothing anti-climactic about it.
While England take on the all-conquering world champions New Zealand at Twickenham, it’s the Wales v Australia clash in Cardiff that grabs the attention in terms of the IRB World Rankings.
There is no better incentive for Wales to end a seven-match losing sequence against Australia than the fact that a win or draw at the Millennium Stadium will secure their place among the top eight nations in the world.
This is vital for Wales with the rankings used to seed the 12 directly qualified teams for Rugby World Cup 2015 at the Pool Allocation Draw in London on Monday.
A defeat, regardless of margin, will see Wales fall to ninth and into band three for the Pool Allocation Draw, meaning they will face two sides above them in their pool at RWC 2015, potentially defending champions New Zealand and hosts England.
The side ranked ninth before the RWC 2011 Pool Allocation Draw was Scotland and they subsequently missed out on the quarter-finals for the first time, so it is easy to see why Wales and current ninth place side Argentina are eager to avoid that position.
Six successive defeats – against Australia (3), Argentina, Samoa and New Zealand – have seen Grand Slam winners Wales slip to seventh in the world and left them staring a nightmare draw for RWC 2015 in the face.
Wales last beat Australia in Cardiff back in 2008 and will be desperate to replicate that result which could see them climb as high as fifth, knowing that defeat will see them slip below Samoa and Argentina in the rankings.
Ten in a row for New Zealand?
Australia are already assured of their place in the top four, regardless of the outcome in Cardiff and know they will avoid defending champions New Zealand, two-time winners South Africa and RWC 2011 runners-up France until the knockout stage of England 2015.
The Wallabies will hope to end an injury-hit year on a high note with an eighth successive win over Wales. If they do so by more than 15 points they will climb above South Africa back into third, but any margin of defeat will see them swap places with France below.
England were the leading northern hemisphere nation going into the November internationals, but their hopes of overhauling France ended with last weekend’s 16-15 defeat to South Africa at Twickenham.
This leaves the RWC 2015 hosts exactly four points adrift of France and unable to secure a coveted top four spot, even if they manage to hand New Zealand a first defeat since August 2011.
England have not beaten the All Blacks since June 2003 – when they won 15-13 in Wellington – and New Zealand will be out for a 10th successive win in the head-to-head at Twickenham to send captain Richie McCaw off on his six-month sabbatical in style.
New Zealand, who recently celebrated their third anniversary atop the IRB World Rankings, can only improve their rating by just under three tenths with an emphatic win at Twickenham, which would stretch their unbeaten run to 21 matches.
England can fall to sixth, albeit only if Wales beat Australia by more than 15 points.
- The IRB World Rankings are published every Monday at 12:00 UK time.
THE POOL ALLOCATION DRAW WILL BE STREAMED LIVE ON RUGBYWORLDCUP.COM FROM 14:55 UK TIME ON 3 DECEMBER (15:55 CET, 16:55 (South Africa), 11:55 (Argentina), 01:55 4 December (NSW Australia), 03:55 4 December (New Zealand, Tonga), 04:55 4 December (Samoa).
- Monday 30 September 2013 - World Rankings
South Africa inch closer to rankings top spot
- Friday 27 September 2013 - World Rankings
Second within reach for Australia in rankings
- Monday 16 September 2013 - World Rankings
New Zealand increase rankings cushion at top
- Thursday 12 September 2013 - World Rankings
Ranking top spot at stake in Auckland