English eye SANZAR big three, but French have other plans
irb.com and James Mortimer 24 Feb 2013 Getty Images
England are the only unbeaten side in this year’s competition thanks to wins against Scotland and Ireland, and now it’s France - at Twickenham on Saturday - who stand in the way of Chris Robshaw’s men taking another step towards a Grand Slam.
If England do achieve a European clean sweep, they will threaten the top three of the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies.
Little motivates the French like the sight of the red rose, however, Twickenham hasn’t always been the happiest of hunting grounds for them.
The French have won three of the sides’ past 10 fixtures at the ground, but after a stuttering start to this year’s competition, they will be keen to rediscover their form of the November internationals.
While defeat by Wales at the Stade de France two weeks ago was nowhere near the surprise that opening-round defeat by Italy was, having their colours lowered on home soil would have rankled nonetheless for France.
An English win on Saturday will maintain the status quo at the upper end of the world rankings, and open up a margin of more than four ranking points over fifth-placed France.
But a French win would take them to within one-tenth of a ranking point; should France win by more than 15 points then the sides will swap places.
France’s tormentors, Italy and Wales, meet on Saturday in Rome, where Italy have twice beaten the Welsh in Six Nations clashes.
However, their chances haven’t been helped by the loss through suspension of their talisman number 8 and captain, Sergio Parisse.
A Welsh victory would mean they remain at least seventh and Italy drop one place to 12th, but on the other hand defeat could see Wales fall from seventh to ninth, with Samoa and Argentina leapfrogging them once more.
Scotland and Ireland wrap up the weekend’s Six Nations action on Sunday at Murrayfield, when the Centenary Quaich will be at stake.
While the trophy may represent the tradition of this fixture, Scotland will be hoping to break with the recent custom of Irish dominance – the visitors have won the past five matches at Murrayfield.
In fact, the last time the Scots beat Ireland at Murrayfield in 2001, Scottish back row Rob Harley was only 11.
If Ireland maintain their winning streak and France lose at Twickenham then the two sides will swap places, while a home win could see Scotland consolidate 10th spot and condemn Ireland to a one place fall if Wales win in Italy.
Away from the Six Nations, the European Nations Cup Division 1A continues this weekend with the highlight being the meeting between Russia and defending champions Georgia, a key match for both sides in their quest to qualify for RWC 2015.
Georgia, with wins over Belgium and Portugal under their belt, won this fixture 46-0 last year and will feel confident of securing an away win, but a big Russian victory could see them close to 18th place and just 1.5 ranking points their neighbours.
The competition also sees Portugal and Belgium come face to face in Lisbon. A home victory would see the Portuguese move from 23rd to 21st and Belgium drop to their opponents’ former spot.
Spain and Romania - ranked 19th and 18th in the world respectively - meet in Gijon. The hosts, if victorious, could move up one place in the world rankings depending on other results and Romania fall two places.