THERE are 14 Test matches this weekend that could impact on the IRB World Rankings, with Scotland still in with a chance of reaching the top eight.
The only certainty is that New Zealand, who have occupied top spot since 16 November 2009, will remain No 1 no matter how they perform against Italy in Rome. The IRB World Rankings on 3 December will be used to band the 12 directly qualified teams from Rugby World Cup 2011 for the pool draw for England 2015.
The race to claim a top four spot is set to go to the wire, with Australia, France and England all bidding this weekend to clinch a top-four spot. The next three weekends are crucial for England as they face three sides currently in the top four in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, with the Wallabies fearful of a plunge to fifth and into the second pot of seeds.
It is that pot on which Scottish eyes are focused. Ireland have taken themselves out of the equation this weekend and ensured they will not lose ranking points by designating their match with Fiji in Limerick a non-cap international. But, if Scotland repeat their feat of 2010 and defeat the Springboks at Murrayfield on Saturday, they will leapfrog the Irish into eighth place, and drop the men from the Emerald Isle into the third pot of seeds.
Historically, South Africa are comfortably ahead of Scotland in the overall head-to-head, but the Scots ran out 21-17 winners when the sides last met at Murrayfield two years ago and, having missed out on the World Cup quarter-finals last year, after being placed in the third pot of seeds for the first time, there is fresh motivation this week.
Argentina, who climbed above Ireland into seventh after beating Wales 26-12 in Cardiff, are also a key factor in this weekend’s ranking permutations. If Los Pumas beat France in Lille they would climb above the Welsh regardless of their result against Samoa at the Millennium Stadium on Friday, and they could even reach the top four, depending on England’s result.
Looking at the “ifs” and “buts” in detail, if Samoa can emulate the Pumas and win in Cardiff, Wales and Ireland are in danger of slipping out of the second band of seeds with Scotland and the Samoans, if they both win, taking spots seven and eight.
If Scotland were to stun South Africa with a victory of 15 points or more they could leap into sixth place in the rankings, matching their highest-ever spot but, if they lose, they could end up in tenth.
If they suffer defeat, Scotland will remain in the third pot irrespective of results elsewhere but, if they draw with the Boks and Wales lose by more than 15 points, they could also swap with the Welsh and join the second pot with a final Test against Tonga to come.
It could all mean very little, of course, as Scotland still have a good chance of drawing Argentina, Ireland or Wales in their pool as well as one of the top four, no matter where they finish.
Current Rugby World Cup seeding pots . . .
New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, France
England, Wales, Argentina, Ireland
Scotland, Samoa, Italy, Tonga
Oceania 1, Europe 1, Asia 1, Americas 1
Africa 1, Europe 2, Americas 2, Repechage winner
How the picture and ratings could change after this weekend’s Test matches . . .
Scotland v South Africa Murrayfield
Current rating: Scotland (SCO) 77.97; South Africa (RSA) 85.50
If home team wins by more than 15 points: SCO 80.15; RSA 83.32
If home team wins by 15 points or less: SCO 79.42; RSA 84.05
If away team wins by 15 points or less: SCO 77.42; RSA 86.05
If away team wins by more than 15 points: SCO 77.15; RSA 86.32
If it’s a tie: SCO 78.42; RSA 85.05
Wales v Samoa Cardiff
Current rating: Wales (WAL) 80.60; Samoa (SAM) 77.14
If home team wins by more than 15 points: WAL 81.13; SAM 76.61
If home team wins by 15 points or less: WAL 80.95; SAM 76.79
If away team wins by 15 points or less: WAL 78.95; SAM 78.79
If away team wins by more than 15 points: WAL 78.13; SAM 79.61
If it’s a tie: WAL 79.95; SAM 77.79 France v Argentina Lille
Current rating: France (FRA) 84.58; Argentina (ARG) 80.29
If home team wins by more than 15 points: FRA 84.99; ARG 79.89
If home team wins by 15 points or less: FRA 84.85; ARG 80.02
If away team wins by 15 points or less: FRA 82.85; ARG 82.02
If away team wins by more than 15 points: FRA 81.99; ARG 82.89
If it’s a tie: FRA 83.85; ARG 81.02