Rugby World Cup 2015 hosts England will put themselves in a position to end the year in second place in the IRB World Rankings if they can beat world champions New Zealand at Twickenham on Saturday, and if South Africa also slip up against Scotland at Murrayfield a day later.
England currently lie third, 2.2 rating points behind the Springboks, but if they can repeat their victory over New Zealand of last year, and the Auld Enemy upset South Africa by any margin, they will return to second for the first time since November 2004.
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If South Africa win at Murrayfield then England would remain third even in victory. And if England were to climb to second this weekend, South Africa would have another opportunity to reclaim that position when they play their final Test of 2013, against Les Bleus at the Stade de France next Saturday.
Even if they do fall to a second successive defeat at Twickenham, such is their lead that the All Blacks would remain the number one side in the world and celebrate four years at the summit, their cushion remaining at least 2.35 rating points over a Springbok side recording an emphatic victory in Scotland.
A New Zealand victory, though, could see that cushion grow to almost five and a half rating points and ensure that Richie McCaw’s men become the first team of the professional era to go through a calendar year with a perfect record.
While England are targeting second place, they could also end the weekend lower than they start if they lose heavily to the All Blacks, and if Australia also beat Ireland in Dublin by more than 15 points. If England lose by a smaller margin then the sides could be separated by just 0.05 rating points.
An Ireland victory, though, would be enough to lift them above France into fifth, even if Les Bleus come out on top against Tonga in Le Havre, because the scalp of the higher-ranked Wallabies is worth more than the minimal gains France would have by beating 13th-ranked Tonga.
Ireland gained two places after beating Samoa last weekend, but with only five hundredths separating them from Wales beneath them, a Wallabies victory in tandem with a Welsh victory over Argentina will see the two Celtic nations swap places again.
Wales will certainly not be underestimating the challenge of Argentina, though, after losing to Los Pumas last November. Another win could see the Welsh fall as low as 10th, depending on other results. Argentina would need to win by more than 15 points, however, to rise to ninth.
Italy, meanwhile, will put their 11th position on the line when they face Fiji, the side currently sitting one place below them. As a result, a Fijian win would put them above the Azzurri.
If Tonga were to beat France in Le Havre – and they have a 50 per cent success rate from their four matches, including the most recent meeting in the RWC 2011 pool stages – they can climb two places to 11, causing the French to slip to sixth.
Final qualifiers of 2013
With the top 23 nations in the IRB World Rankings in action there is plenty of scope for further changes.
Romania, buoyed by a last-gasp 19-18 win over Tonga last weekend in Bucharest, can climb one place to 16th if they beat the side above them, Canada, but only if Georgia also lose to the 18th-ranked USA in Tbilisi.
Japan will see only minimal improvement to their rating if they overcome Russia at the IRB International Rugby Series match in Colwyn Bay, north Wales, on Friday and could fall even in victory, depending on other results.
Spain and Portugal are both in action in South America – against lower ranked opponents Uruguay and Brazil respectively – and will be keen to bounce back from defeats last weekend. If they do then both could rise one place.
There are also three matches in the European Nations Cup, including the final two Rugby World Cup 2015 qualifiers of the year. Germany could climb to a new high in the rankings with victory over Moldova in the first of these Division 1A matches, while the Ukraine could close in on a top 30 place by beating the Czech Republic.
The IRB World Rankings are update every Monday at 12:00 UK time.