The final round of the Six Nations will have a major say in how the 2019 Rugby World Cup is formed, given it is the last chance for any movement in World Rugby’s rankings before the draw take place in two months’ time.
But will it actually make any difference? On the face of it, yes, but when broken down, it looks like every one of the top eight-ranked teams is going to get a fairly comfortable draw regardless of what happens this weekend – every one but one that is.
The big point here is that if England go on to secure the Grand Slam, beating Ireland in the process, and Wales beat France in Paris, it will be enough for Rob Howley’s side to leapfrog not only fifth-place South Africa but also the Irish and secure a top-four berth, which gives them a place among the top seeds alongside New Zealand, England and Australia – all three teams already assured of heading into the May 10 draw in first, second and third respectively.
France are still able to move above South Africa, Wales and Scotland – though it would take Italy beating the Scots for Vern Cotter to leave the side at the end of the tournament anywhere below their current ranking of fifth. But this is all a big shake-up among positions five to eight, the second tier, and now that ninth-placed Argentina are no longer able to catch wither France or Wales following last weekend’s victories, the so-called ‘Pool of Death’ is looking much easier than first feared.
The ‘Pool of Death’ was on hand to not only end England’s home World Cup campaign in 2015 as defeats by Wales and Australia sent them crashing out of the tournament, but also ended Stuart Lancaster’s reign as head coach and triggered the arrival of Eddie Jones and the subsequent unbeaten run that leaves them on the cusp of becoming consecutive Grand Slam champions.
When the draw happens, the top seeds will have to face one of the second seeds, although it does mean that England will avoid the All Blacks, the Wallabies and one of Ireland, Scotland or Wales. They will, however, have to face the one of the two remaining nations out of that trio, France or South Africa.
Now comes the important bit. No team will want to meet 2015 semi-finallists Argentina in the pool stage given how dangerous they can be and their recent knack of peaking at World Cups. But for the teams that avoid the Pumas, then Italy, Georgia and hosts Japan await – three teams that all would feel comfortable in beating, although South Africa may have something to say about their experiences with Japan.
Pre-tournament, the thought of England and Wales meeting again in the World Cup drew plenty of interest, and it may still do if come May it’s Argentina who join them in one of the four World Cup pools. But there’s a 25 per cent chance of England ending up in the same pool as the Pumas, and given their chastening experience two years ago, you imagine they might catch a break this time around.Reuse content