Six matches count towards the World Rugby Rankings this weekend, two in the Americas Rugby Championship and four in the Rugby Europe Championship and Rugby Europe Trophy.
The USA stand to make big gains if they beat Uruguay and lift the Americas Rugby Championship trophy for a second consecutive year, with a three-place rise to 15th their reward for an emphatic victory. Hoping to stand in their way are the Argentina XV who take on Brazil in the final match of the 2018 edition, although this encounter does not count towards the rankings. Chile play Canada in the opening match of the final round.
Meanwhile in Europe, Spain could continue their impressive rise up the rankings if they steal the initiative from Georgia in pursuit of the Rugby Europe Championship 2018 title. Russia’s trip to Romania is another standout fixture as the outcome will play a key part in the Rugby World Cup 2019 qualification process in the region, while the other match between Belgium and Germany could well determine which of the sides faces a relegation play-off against the winner of the Rugby Europe Trophy. One match also takes place in the Trophy this weekend as the Netherlands entertain Poland in a battle between the sides currently placed second and third.
RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP
ROMANIA (16) v RUSSIA (20)
Romania’s record points scorer Florin Vlaicu is named among the replacements for only the fourth time in six years as Lynn Howells opts to hand Jack Umaga the fly-half jersey for the visit of Russia. There is a change at scrum-half too, with Valentin Calafeteanu also promoted from the bench, while Ionut Dumitru comes in for Stephen Shennan on the left wing. The only change to the front five is in the second row where Marius Antonescu is replaced by Valentin Poparlan, while Vlad Nistor and Andrei Gorcioaia are the two new faces in the back row.
For Russia, Viktor Gresev and Dmitry Krotov return to the back row, while Yuri Kushnarev and Ramil Gaisin swap roles in the 10 and 15 shirts. Evgeny Nepeivoda and Sergei Trishin join the backline as acting head coach Mark McDermott names his first Bears team for this do-or-die RWC 2019 qualifier.
- Former Munster hooker Mark McDermott has been appointed acting head coach of Russia following the resignation of Alexander Pervukhin
- Romania need to win to keep alive their hopes of qualifying for RWC 2019 as Europe 1. If beaten, Russia’s chances of qualifying directly for RWC 2019 or via the play-off route will be over
- Romania have won their last five home games against Russia dating back to 2009 and have scored 30 points in each of their last two games
- Russia’s last win in the fixture came on home soil when they beat the Oaks 16-13 in Krasnodar in 2015
The most Romana can gain is a quarter of a rating point which wouldn’t be enough to take them any higher than their current ranking of 16th. They could, however, drop below Russia if they suffer a heavy home defeat to the Bears, with a drop of four places possible if other results go against them too. A rise of two places is within Russia’s grasp should they give their RWC 2019 qualification hopes a boost with a priceless victory in Cluj.
BELGIUM (28) v GERMANY (25)
Germany coach Pablo Lemoine has made seven changes to the side that was beaten 64-0 by Georgia a fortnight ago, two of them positional. In the pack, Eric Marks has reverted to the back row from the second row while centre Robin Plumpe moves in one to inside-centre. Hooker Michail Tyumenev and prop Paul Weiss are new additions to the front row and Jens Listmann partners Stephan Mau in the second row. Other than the half-back combination of Oliver Paine and Wynston Cameron-Dow and Plumpe at centre, it is all change in the backline. Nico Muller and Pascal Fischer are new faces on the wing while New Zealand-born centre Sam Harris wins his third cap and his first for two years and Sam Ramsay is tasked with the full-back duties in his first test start.
Belgium have not yet announced their team.
- A battle between the bottom two that could well decide who faces the Rugby Europe Trophy winner in the relegation/promotion play-off
- Belgium have never lost at home to Germany in four previous matches dating back to the first encounter in 1992
- Germany won 34-29 when the sides last met in Offenbach in last year’s Rugby Europe Championship
- Five points or less have covered the sides in the last three encounters
- The sides have only scored 13 points between them in the first two rounds with 244 conceded
Any form of victory for Belgium will result in them leapfrogging Germany and Brazil, and possibly Chile if Los Condores lose at home to Canada in the final round of the Americas Rugby Championship. Germany can increase their rating by as many as 1.78 points but that won’t be enough for them to catch any of the sides above them. Wins for Chile and the Netherlands, who take on Poland in the Rugby Europe Trophy, leave Germany vulnerable to a three-place fall to 28th.
Captain of @georgianrugby Merab Sharikadze reflects on the honour of playing for his country, following in Mamuka's footsteps & taking a leadership role as a part of Georgia's #RWC2019 preparation. pic.twitter.com/Ly9BaZ9vHO— World Rugby (@WorldRugby) March 1, 2018
GEORGIA (12) v SPAIN (19)
Rugby Europe Championship leaders Georgia have named a strong side as they look to go one step closer to reclaiming the title from Romania. Centre David Kacharava will draw to within one cap of equalling Merab Kvirikashvili’s Georgian record of 108 test appearances. He partners Giorgi Kveseladze once again in midfield, with the only changes to the backs coming at scrum-half and full-back. Vasil Lobzhanidze wins the battle for the nine jersey while Ioseb Matiashvili steps in for Beka Tsiklauri at 15. The two changes to the pack see Shalva Sutiashvili and Giorgi Tkhilaishvili come into the side.
As expected, Spain have decided to rest several of their frontline players with the key RWC 2019 qualifiers against Belgium and Germany in mind. Jesus Moreno Rodriguez is the only survivor from the pack that took on and beat Romania last time out, while in the backs only Sebastien Rouet and Dan Snee survive, with Snee shifting from inside-centre to fly-half to cover the absence of Mathieu Belie.
- The top two go head-to-head in a game that has no bearing on the RWC 2019 qualification process
- Georgia won 20-10 when the sides last met in the 2017 Championship in Valladolid
- The Lelos are on a six-game winning run against Spain dating back to 2012
- Spain have never won in Georgia in nine attempts, a 22-20 defeat in 2008 being the closest they have come
Georgia cannot increase their rating in victory, due to the large points differential between themselves and Spain. As many as three points are on the line, however, for an away victory that would not only set Spain on course for the Rugby Europe Championship title but also see them continue their steady climb up the rankings. This time last year Spain were ranked 22nd but they could be as high as 16th by the close of play on Saturday. For that to happen, Santiago Santos’ side would need to win by more than 15 points and hope that Uruguay’s game against the USA ends in a draw and Romania are beaten at home by Russia.
RUGBY EUROPE TROPHY
NETHERLANDS (29) v POLAND (34)
Team news to follow
- Second plays third in Amsterdam as Poland, who have a game in hand, look to wipe out the four-point gap between themselves and their hosts
- Poland won 14-13 when the sides last met in Lodz in April 2017
- Poland have a decent record on Dutch soil, winning on four of the nine occasions they have played there, most recently 32-19 in 2012
- The Netherlands have scored 14 tries in their first three games while Poland have only managed two in two.
An emphatic win for the Netherlands comes with a six-tenths of a point reward and could potentially lift them up three places in the rankings to 26th. A place in the world’s top 30 is the prize on offer for Poland should they win well. Any margin of victory would see Poland overtake the Dutch in the rankings.
AMERICAS RUGBY CHAMPIONSHIP
CHILE (26) v CANADA (21)
Jose Ignacio Larenas is back from injury to lead Chile from outside-centre in a team showing six changes to the one that suffered a record 67-15 defeat at the hands of Uruguay in round four. Juan Pablo Perrota and Benjamin Pizarro form an all-new half-back combination, while the other change in the backs comes on the right wing where Lucca Avelli is called up to replace Matias Balbontin who was sent off last week. Tight-head Jose Tomas Munita is the only new face in the pack.
For Canada, Kyle Baillie will start in the second row as Dustin Dobravsky switches from number eight to the blindside to accommodate the arrival of Luke Campbell at the back of the pack. In the backs, Gordon McRorie replaces Robbie Povey at fly-half and is likely to take on the goal-kicking responsibility with Brock Staller dropping out of the match-day squad. His place on the left wing is taken by Lloyd Kainoa ,while Josh Thiel comes in for Pat Parfrey at full-back.
- Chile have never beaten Canada in four previous attempts
- The average winning margin in fixtures between the two teams is 28 points
- Canada’s last trip to Chile in the ARC 2016 ended in a 64-13 win – their third highest score in test history
- Chile are on a 13-match losing run in the America Rugby Championship
Abbotsford's @RealJoshuaThiel is set to make his Men's Team debut this Saturday against @chilerugby1 at fullback! Josh, along with #RC7s member & twin-brother @JakeThiel1, both played for Canada U20 last year together at the Junior World Rugby Trophy #ARC2018 #RugbyCA @WorldRugby pic.twitter.com/Iwd2FYVLLA— Rugby Canada (@RugbyCanada) March 1, 2018
Chile will move back into the world’s top 25 in victory if Germany fail to win away in Belgium. Canada can pick up as many as 1.83 points for a convincing win but that won’t be enough to catch Russia, the side immediately above them in the rankings, even if the Bears lose to Romania in the Rugby Europe Championship.
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URUGUAY (17) v USA (18)
Rodolfo Garese moves from blindside flanker to the second row as fit-again captain Juan Manuel Gaminara returns. The other changes to Los Teros’ line-up come in the backs with Santiago Arata, Nicolas Freitas and Juan Manuel Cat named at scrum-half, left wing and outside-centre respectively.
The title-seeking Eagles hand a first test start to centre Paul Lasike as a reward for scoring two tries in as many games off the bench. The other changes to the backs are positional with Mike Te’o and Dylan Audsley trading places and lining up on the right wing and at full-back respectively, while the versatile Nate Augspurger moves from the right to the left flank. It’s a similar story in the back row too, as Hanco Germishuys moves from openside to the blindside in place of Psalm Wooching, who drops to the bench, with Tony Lamborn now playing at seven. Ben Landry has a new second-row partner with Brendan Daly coming in for Nick Civetta.
- Taple-toppers USA are on a nine-game unbeaten run in the Americas Rugby Championship
- Their last defeat came against Uruguay at Estadio Charrua, 29-25 in the final round of the 2016 Championship
- Uruguay are on a 14-test winning streak
- USA have won 13 of the 16 tests played between the two teams since 1989 with one draw and two defeats
A win by more than 15 points would only result in Uruguay moving above Romania into 16th if the Oaks don’t win at home to Russia. Victory for the Eagles would see them crowned champions for the second year in a row and would also come with the added boost of a significantly improved ranking. The Eagles will move above their hosts if they leave the Estadio Charrua unbeaten, and they could climb even higher if they wrap up the title in emphatic style. A win by more than 15 points would take them above Samoa and Romania into 15th place, one shy of their all-time best since the rankings were introduced in October 2003. The USA haven’t been as high as 15th since the start of RWC 2015.
The World Rugby Rankings update at 12:00 GMT every Monday.
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Americas Rugby Championship 2018 - Round 5
CHILE v CANADA: 17-33
URUGUAY v USA: 19-61
BRAZIL v ARGENTINA XV: 8-28