CARDIFF (Reuters) - Wales must win one of their remaining two Six Nations matches to stay in the top eight of the World Rugby rankings and avoid a potential Group of Death at the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Failure to win either game will see the Welsh drop to ninth and into the third pot in the World Cup first-round draw, which will take place in Kyoto, Japan, on May 10.
Even with a win over Ireland on Friday or away in France on March 18, the Welsh could still drop out of the top eight, although that is much less likely. The French face a similar scenario if they lose this weekend to Italy and Wales.
Argentina will be watching with particular interest. They would be the team that profits if Rob Howley’s side slump to successive defeats.
Wales were ranked ninth when the draw was made before the last World Cup, in England in 2015, and ended up with the hosts and Australia in their pool. But by the time the World Cup was played, they had risen to fifth, with Australia second and England fourth, and it was England who missed out on the quarter-finals.
The loss of one of the game’s major powers in the opening round was a blow to the image of the sport. A rankings slip now by the Welsh could lead to another early exit.
World Rugby has since moved the group stage draw closer to the start of the tournament after drawing criticism following Wales’ rise in 2015.
Should they find themselves in Pot 3, it could mean they have a combination of New Zealand and South Africa in their first-round pool, with only the top two sides advancing to the quarter-finals.
The Six Nations provides the last international action before the draw for Japan, and Wales have so far won only one of their three games, defeating Italy.
Reporting by Nick Said in Cape Town, editing by Larry King