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Premiership Rugby

England defending their No.1 spot

A Gallagher Premiership Rugby ball

Their main challenge will come from defending champions France who are currently in fourth place in the rankings, just behind Australia.

The main Celtic challenge for the Six Nations crown will come from sixth-ranked Ireland with Scotland (seventh) and Wales (eighth) expected to be scrapping for the lowers places in the final table.

Finally, perennial wooden-spoonists Italy will be hoping they can pull off one surprise but as 12th in the world they face a daunting few weeks.

Outside of the Six Nations, the European Nations Cup (ENC) is also being battled out with 21st ranked Russia, who recently incurred the wrath of the IRB, the form favourites.

However, without their South African-born players after the 'Babushka-gate' scandal, the team that replaced them in the RWC qualifiers, Spain, who are ranked just six places below, are also very much in the running.

The two sides are due to meet on the opening weekend in the ENC's very own 'crunch' match.

The other sides competing in the ENC are Romania, Portugal, Georgia and the newly promoted Czech Republic.

Zurich World Rankings (as of 1 February, 2003):

1 England 12172 New Zealand 12063 Australia 11464 France 11125 South Africa 10456 Ireland 8577 Scotland 8358 Wales 7729 Argentina 75510 Samoa 68011 Canada 60312 Italy 57313 Fiji 56714 Tonga 51115 Japan 47116 Romania 37817 Georgia 35318 United States 34519 Uruguay 29520 Namibia 294

21 Russia 26522= Tunisia 26222= Korea 26224 Portugal 26125 Chile 26026 Morocco 25127 Spain 25028 Netherlands 24829 Cote d’Ivoire 24030 Poland 23431 Cook Islands 23032 Zimbabwe 22933 Czech Republic 22534 Ukraine 22235 Croatia 21036 Denmark 208 37 Germany 20638 Switzerland 20539 Sweden 20440 Slovenia 198

41= Brazil 19542 Papua New Guinea 19343 Latvia 19244 Chinese Taipei 19045 Hong Kong 18846 Belgium 18347Paraguay 17848= Yugoslavia 16948= Madagascar 16950 Arabian Gulf 16351 Kenya 14952 Trinidad & Tobago 14753 Austria 14154 Hungary 13955 Bermuda 13256= Malaysia 13156= Andorra 13158 Thailand 12559 China 11960 Moldova 108

61= Lithuania 10461= Singapore 10463 Uganda 10164 Kazakhstan 9365 Botswana 9266 Sri Lanka 9167 Venezuela 8768 Zambia  8369= Cameroon 7969= Cayman Islands 7971 Israel 7872 Tahiti 7273 Bosnia 6574 Malta 5875= Bulgaria 5575= Niue Island 5577 Luxembourg 5078 Jamaica 4879= Solomon Islands 3779= Peru 3781 Monaco 36(-1) 82 Swaziland 34(-1) 83 Barbados 29(-1) 84= Mexico 26(-1) 84= Norway 2686= Bahamas 2486= Guyana 2488 Vanuatu 2389 Colombia 20

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