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WXV raises stakes in final round

The WXV has transformed the final round of the Six Nations from a near academic battle for the minor places to games that will decide who will play where in a new worldwide tournament.

With England and France playing off for the title in past years the other two games in the final round of the Six Nations would have tended to be footnotes in the day's sporting news.

But no more. This weekend, Scotland and Wales will not only be battling for third place in this year's championship, but also the final European spot in WXV1, and with it the right to take on the top top three teams in the Pacific Four Nations this autumn in New Zealand (the venue has not officially been confirmed yet, but this is where everyone expects it to be).

At the same time Italy will be trying to win a guaranteed WXV2 spot, and avoid a playoff with their trans-Mediterranean rivals Spain, while even Ireland, despite being winless so far, still have a chance to avoid playing in WXV3. 

Italy v Wales

Italy and Wales have had contrasting journeys to this point. Italy began by being mauled by France and England, before taking on more competitive fixtures with Ireland and Scotland, while Wales’ path has been the exact opposite. And the only difference has been that Wales came away from Edinburgh with a hard-fought win, whereas Italy lost in the Scottish capital.

The difference between the two teams is small and this weekend may come down to the venue. Italy reach another level playing at home. They have not lost a Six Nations game in Italy to Wales, Ireland or Scotland since 2017, while their triumph at the World Cup qualifier at home in Parma in 2021 took some commentators by surprise.

Missing the bonus point last weekend means that Italy cannot now reach WXV1, but a win could give them a chance of an automatic spot in WXV2 (dependent on what happens in Edinburgh), avoiding the playoff against Spain. Wales, on the other hand, just need a single point to ensure a place in WXV1. It is entirely possible – even likely - that both teams will achieve these targets.

Italy were disappointed by their performance last weekend. "Rarely has Italy been seen making so many mistakes" said the FIR's interviewer on their own website when speaking to Giada Franco. Looking ahead to this weekend, Giada said "that result will give us a further push to do better this weekend. It is a game within our reach, as Scotland and Ireland were and as France was at times, and we have shown what we can do on the pitch. Clearly after a defeat there is a great desire to take the field immediately to try again to win and put things right: we want to get a positive result for ourselves, for the team, for the staff, for the fans and our families who follow us".

Scotland v Ireland

Scotland are also hoping for a record crowd at the DAM Health Stadium in Edinburgh this weekend, with the over 3.600 tickets already sold, their clash with Ireland is closing in on the existing record of 3,988 for England's visit last year. Scottish Rugby is already opening two more stands at the ground to cope with demand.

The excitement has grown as, after so many narrow defeats, Scotland finally got across the line last weekend and now have a theoretical chance of qualifying for WXV1. It will be a tough ask - even if the result goes for them in Parma, overcoming a 67-point difference between themselves and Wales looks too tall an order.

Even if they miss that, the automatic spot for Scotland in WXV2 could be theirs for the taking. All they need to do is complete a second consecutive win in the Six Nations, something they have not achieved since 2006.

Ireland, despite suffering a fourth defeat last weekend, can only have been lifted by a performance that held England to a significantly lower score than all of the pundits had suggested prior to the game. With the confidence that result will have given them they could spring a surprise and with it win a possible place in WXV2. Coach John McKee spoke today about the need to improve their set pieces and mentioned that Ireland have a "couple of things up their sleeve that [Scotland] will not expect".