The destiny of the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 title may have been decided back in June when Georgia lifted the trophy for the 15th time, but the competition only came to a conclusion last weekend in Amsterdam when Spain defeated the Netherlands 52-7.
The win lifted Los Leones up to fourth in the Rugby Europe Championship 2021 table and leaves them only two points adrift of Romania and Portugal in pursuit of the Europe 2 place at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Points from this year’s tournament will be added to the points from the 2022 edition of the Rugby Europe Championship when it comes around to determining which of the teams will be off to France the year after next.
📈The final rankings of the 2021 Championship. Points will be carried over into the 2022 edition and we'll find out who will be going to @rugbyworldcup!— Rugby Europe (@rugby_europe) December 18, 2021
🎟 Two tickets and a place in the global repechage will be up for grabs at @France2023. pic.twitter.com/0XF6N1M03Y
Realistically, the chances of any of the teams claiming the Europe 1 spot ahead of Georgia are slim at best with the Lelos holding a 10-point lead at the halfway stage following another Grand Slam-winning campaign.
However, Romania, who sit second ahead of Portugal on points difference, are resurgent under head coach Andy Robinson and will hope to still be in the mix for the region’s first automatic qualification berth by the time the Lelos visit Bucharest in the penultimate round of the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 on 12 March.
Romania showed tremendous spirit to rally from their round one 18-13 defeat to Russia and beat Portugal 28-27 in their second fixture, scoring two late tries to overturn a 13-point deficit. Further wins came against Spain and the Netherlands either side of a 28-17 loss to all-conquering Georgia.
Portugal enjoyed a fine campaign in 2021 under Patrice Lagisquet and also won three matches. Os Lobos began with a 29-16 defeat to Georgia and were then left kicking themselves after letting victory slip from their grasp against Romania. However, convincing wins against the Netherlands, Russia and Spain set them up nicely for a serious tilt at qualification next year.
Spain kicked off with a competitive performance against Georgia which brought them a losing bonus point. That 25-19 defeat was then followed by another near-miss against Romania, where the losing margin was again only six points. A 43-28 loss to Portugal set them back but big wins over Russia and the Netherlands mean they are still very much in with a shout of making it to France 2023.
A win over Romania boded well for the rest of Russia’s campaign but, as it turned out, they could only manage one more victory (35-8 against the Netherlands). Still, with nine points to their name, Russia are certainly not down and out in the race for qualification.
After a tough first season back at this level in 19 years, the Netherlands will be looking more towards Rugby World Cup 2027 than the tournament in 2023. The Dutch conceded an average of 50 points per game in losing all five of their fixtures and failed to pick up a single point.
WHICH POOLS ARE EUROPE 1 AND EUROPE 2 IN AT RWC 2023?
Wales, Australia and Fiji await the team that qualifies as Europe 1. The Final Qualification Tournament winner will also be present in Pool C.
The team that finishes third in the combined Rugby Europe Championship 2021 and 2022 table will contest the Final Qualification Tournament alongside teams from Africa, Asia/Pacific and the Americas.
Europe 2 will go into Pool B with reigning world champions South Africa, Ireland and Scotland and the Asia/Pacific 1 qualifier.
WHEN DOES THE RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP 2022 BEGIN?
Fixtures for the second half of the regional qualification process have just been announced. Romania take on Russia and Spain play the Netherlands in the first two fixtures on Saturday 5 February, while Georgia kick off their title defence against Portugal in Tbilisi the following day.
Georgia travel to the Netherlands in round two on 12 February, while Russia play Spain in a game that neither team can afford to lose. Romania against Portugal is the later of the three kick-offs.
Round three kicks off with an encounter between Portugal and the Netherlands on 26 February. A Sunday double bill features Spain against Romania and Georgia against Russia. Victory in that game could guarantee the Lelos of the Europe 1 spot with two rounds to play.
After a two-week break, the Rugby Europe Championship 2022 fixtures resume on the weekend of 12/13 March. Russia are up against the Netherlands and Romania take on Georgia in the Saturday slot with Iberian bragging rights at stake on Sunday as Spain welcome local rivals Portugal to Madrid.
The final set of fixtures take place on the weekend of 19/20 March with the Netherlands and Romania and Portugal and Russia going head-to-head in Saturday’s two fixtures. On Sunday, Georgia and Spain bring the curtain down on the qualification race
WHICH OF THE TEAMS HAS THE PROUDEST RUGBY WORLD CUP RECORD?
None of the teams involved in the Rugby Europe Championship have ever got beyond the pool stages of a Rugby World Cup.
But Romania have the longest association with the competition having appeared in the first eight editions. Their ever-present record came to an end when they failed to qualify for Japan 2019.
Georgia have competed at every Rugby World Cup since making their debut in Australia in 2003 and with five tournament wins are just one behind Romania from three fewer tournaments.
At England 2015, Georgia defeated Tonga and Namibia to finish third in their pool and automatically qualify for the next tournament in Japan.
Russia have appeared at a Rugby World Cup twice, in New Zealand in 2011 and Japan in 2019, while Spain and Portugal have just one tournament appearance apiece.
The Netherlands have never appeared on the game’s highest stage before.
HAS ANY TEAM OTHER THAN GEORGIA WON THE RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP?
Georgia have taken 15 of the titles on offer since 2000, nine of them by way of a ‘Grand Slam’.
The Lelos are on a 20-game winning run dating back to an 8-7 defeat at the hands of Romania in March 2017 and have never lost at home since the competition took on its current format.
That said, Romania won the first title of the new millennium and have hoisted the trophy aloft four times since, in 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010 and 2017. Portugal (in 2003) are the only other team to win the title.
WHAT IS THE BACKGROUND TO THE RUGBY EUROPE CHAMPIONSHIP?
The competition has been known by a variety of different names since the International Amateur Rugby Federation (FIRA) was first formed in the 1930s.
In the early years, the competition was called the FIRA Nations Cup before morphing into the European Nations Cup Division 1A in 2000. From September 2016, the division was rebranded the Rugby Europe Championship.
It is the top of the Rugby Europe pyramid of men’s international 15s competitions, followed by the Trophy, Conference 1 North and South and Conference 2 North and South.