After an opening round in which Germany and Spain beat higher-ranked opposition and reigning champions Georgia had to battle hard to see off newly-promoted Belgium, the second weekend of the Rugby Europe Championship cannot come around soon enough.
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For all the participating nations except Georgia, who qualified directly for Rugby World Cup 2019 through their third-place pool finish in England in 2015, Europe’s second-tier international competition serves as a vehicle to qualify for the next tournament in Japan, with the best-placed side other than the Lelos booking their place as Europe 1.
In this respect, Germany and Spain have stolen a march on their rivals after bagging four points from their wins over Romania and Russia respectively. However, both sides face tough assignments on the road in round two, with Germany travelling to Tbilisi to take on Georgia, who are unbeaten in 26 matches at this level, while Spain can expect a fierce backlash from a Romanian side stung by a defeat which has put their ever-present record at the game’s flagship tournament in jeopardy.
As games against Georgia do not count towards qualification, Germany cannot make any further progress on the road to Japan this weekend, meaning Spain have the opportunity to put some daylight between themselves and the rest with victory in Bucharest, as they attempt to make it to their first Rugby World Cup since 1999.
We take a look at some of the key facts and figures ahead of this weekend’s fixtures.
GEORGIA (12) v GERMANY (22)
Merab Kvirikashvili (pictured) will become the first Georgian to win 100 test caps when he takes to the field in Tblisi on Sunday. Kvirikashvili, who made his international debut in 2003, lines up in his regular position at full-back in a Lelos team showing just three changes to the one that ran out in the 31-6 win over Belgium.
France-based props, Tornike Mataradze and Soso Bekoshvili, and fly-half Revazi Jintchvelashvili are handed their first test starts by Lelos head coach Milton Haig.
Germany will be without their second-row enforcer and captain, Michael Poppmeier, for the remainder of the Championship after he suffered a knee injury in the 41-38 win against Romania.
- Georgia have not lost in this competition since a 25-18 defeat to Spain in Madrid in February 2012.
- Georgia have won all five previous meetings with Germany dating back to 1995.
- The Lelos’ biggest win in the fixture was 77-3 in Tbilisi in February 2010
- Germany need three more tries for 250 in tests
Due to the 10-place difference between the sides, Georgia will not pick up any points for beating Germany. They cannot lose ground even in defeat - unless they are beaten by more than 15 points in which case they will fall to 15th, with Tonga, Italy and Samoa all profiting.
A winning Germany could either stay as they are, in 22nd place, or move as high as 18th if other results fall their way and they pile on the points against the Lelos. Defeats for Rugby Europe Championship rivals Russia and Spain and Canada, who are at home to USA in the third round of the Americas Rugby Championship, would help their cause.
A win by 15 points or less takes them up to 62.73 points, just five-hundredths of a point behind Namibia.
ROMANIA (16) v SPAIN (21)
Dorin Lazar wins a place in the Romanian pack alongside his brother and captain, prop Mihai Lazar (pictured), as one of two changes made by Lynn Howells following the Oaks’ setback in Germany. Lazar steps up from the bench to take his place at number eight, while Luke Samoa makes his first start at fly-half, having made his test debut as a replacement in Offenbach last weekend.
Spain coach Santos Santiago has made three changes to his starting line-up from the game against Russia, a 16-6 win, with Jonathan Garcia, Thibaut Alvarez and Javier Carrion promoted from the bench.
Garcia replaces Jesus Rodriguez at tight-head prop, Alvarez gets the nod at inside centre over Dan Snee, who drops to the bench, while Carrion takes Sebastien Ascaret’s spot on the right wing.
- In 35 meetings between the sides Spain have won just two, and both were in Madrid: 6-0 in April 1992 and 13-12 in March 2012.
- Romania last won the European Nations Cup Division 1A title (now known as the Rugby Europe Championship) in 2010.
- Spain’s best finish was when runners-up to Georgia in 2012.
- Brad Linklater kicked Spain’s 500th penalty in tests in last weekend’s win over Russia.
The most Romania can gain in victory is eight-hundredths of a point, which is not enough to take them any higher than their current position of 16th.
Spain, however, will pick up a fraction under two points if they make it two wins from two in this year’s Championship. It is possible for a victorious Los Leones to climb as high as 18th – if Russia and Germany do not beat Belgium and Georgia respectively by more than 15 points and Canada lose at home to USA in the Americas Rugby Championship.
BELGIUM (26) v RUSSIA (20)
Martin Bonnel makes his first start for Belgium at loose-head prop as one of four changes to the Black Devils line-up. Tuur Moelants gets the nod at lock having missed out against Georgia, while head coach Guillaume Ajac opts for Jens Torf and outside centre and Ervin Muric on the right wing.
Russia coach Alexandre Pervukhin has resisted the temptation to radically overhaul his squad following his side’s 16-6 defeat to Spain in round one.But he was pressed into a late change when captain and full-back Vasily Artemyev was ruled out on Friday after picking up an injury in training. Ramil Gaisin takes his place at No.15.
Elsewhere, Evgenii Pronenko and Sergey Sugrobov are promoted from the bench. Pronenko comes in at tight-head prop for Azamat Bitiev, while 34-year-old centre Sergey Sugrobov wins his first cap for nearly two years in place of namesake Sergey Trishin, who drops out of the squad altogether.
- Russia have won all four previous meetings dating back to October 1992.
- The average points margin between the sides is 15.
- The most recent game was in Brussels in March 2014 when Russia won 34-20 at the Stade Roi Baudouin.
- Belgium were kept try-less for the first time in 14 matches in losing 31-6 to Georgia in round one.
Belgium will gain at least a one place if they win by more than 15 points. A two-place rise is possible if Uruguay also come unstuck at home to Brazil in the Americas Rugby Championship.
Any form of win is enough to lift Russia up a place to 19th unless accompanied by a shock win for Spain away to Romania, in which case they will stay as they are. A two-place rise to 18th is within their grasp if Canada are beaten by border rivals USA in the Americas Rugby Championship and Spain fail to win away to Romania.
PORTUGAL (25) v POLAND (32)
Victory for either nation will see them leapfrog Moldova into second place behind the Netherlands in the Rugby Europe Trophy table. The winners of the Trophy at the end of this season will take on the bottom-placed side in the Championship in a promotion/relegation play-off.
- Portugal have won five of the seven previous meetings between the nations dating back to 1973.
- Poland enjoyed back-to-back victories in 1982 (38-13 in Lodz) and 1983 (6-4 in Lisbon).
- This is the first match between the two since Portugal won 39-26 in Lisbon five years ago.
Portugal will pick up 0.32 of a point and cement their position in 25th place if they win by more than 15 points and Belgium fail to beat Russia at home.
Poland will slip at least two places to 34th if heavily beaten, but stand to gain a minimum of 1.80 points – and a one-place rise – if they beat their higher-ranked opponents in Lisbon.
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