There is a lot more at stake than the 6 Nations title over the next 7 weeks.
The pool draw for the 2019 World Cup in Japan takes place in May and the rankings are likely to change depending on what happens in the 6 Nations.
The 12 directly qualified teams will be seeded into three bands of four teams based on the World Rugby Rankings as of 10 May, 2017. Currently, two of the Six Nations sides, England (second) and Ireland (fourth), are positioned in the top band with Wales (fifth), Scotland (seventh) and France (eighth) in the second band. The other Six Nations team to have qualified automatically for RWC 2019, Italy, are currently occupying 13th position.
That means teams not playing in the Six Nations may still gain or lose places in the rankings depending on results of others near them on the ladder. For example, Argentina are currently placed ninth but they could still reach the RWC 2019 pool draw inside the top eight depending on how France, Scotland or even Wales fare during the Six Nations.
Equally, Ireland are in fourth spot and sitting pretty for a place in the top band but they will need a strong Six Nations campaign to maintain their lofty position. The rankings are updated every Monday at midday (GMT).
The full ranking table is here –
On the current rankings England (or Ireland) could find themselves in a pool of death with South Africa and Argentina. As England found out in 2015
Wales or Scotland (or France could be paired with New Zealand and Argentina.
I still have no idea why the pools are drawn some 28 months before the tournament kicks off – you can be certain that the rankings will be very different when the teams head off to Japan!
Still – a lot more than bragging rights to play for!