SCOTLAND will avoid South Africa, France and Wales at the Rugby World Cup in 2019 after hanging on to fifth spot in the world rankings.
Saturday’s 29-0 victory over Italy ensured Vern Cotter bowed out with his side still in the nation’s highest-ever place in the order compiled by governing body World Rugby.
The rankings take on extra significance this year as they are used to determine the seedings for May’s draw for the World Cup to be held in Japan in two years’ time.
The Scots were desperate to avoid dropping out of the top eight to give them the chance of a better pool at the finals.
And, having stayed in fifth after a third Six Nations win at the weekend, they now know who they can and cannot face from the countries to have qualified automatically for Japan.
Scotland will be in the second seeds for the draw, along with France, South Africa and Wales, who occupy sixth, seventh and eighth in the rankings, respectively.
It means they will face one of New Zealand, England, Australia or Ireland from the top seeds and one from Argentina, hosts Japan, Georgia and Italy in ‘band three’.
With Gregor Townsend taking over as head coach from Cotter this summer, much can change over the next two years, but Scotland may prefer to draw Ireland from the top seeds after beating them in the first game of this year’s Six Nations.
They will be happy to have avoided the Springboks, who they lost to during the pool stage of the World Cup in 2015, and will probably want to avoid Argentina from the third seeds as they eye the ideal draw.
The seedings for the RWC 2019 draw are:
Band 1: New Zealand, England, Australia, Ireland
Band 2: Scotland, France, South Africa, Wales
Band 3: Argentina, Japan, Georgia, Italy
• Meanwhile, Scotland stars Stuart Hogg and Finn Russell are both in the running to be crowned Six Nations player of the championship.
The pair are up against players from all of the other five countries for the accolade, which Hogg won last year.
If the full-back takes the award again this year he will become the first player since Ireland legend Brian O’Driscoll in 2007 to win it back to back.
Hogg again impressed in this year’s tournament, scoring three tries in five games, including a double in the win over Ireland that won him the man of the match award, and creating other scores for Tim Visser and Tommy Seymour.
Russell scooped two man of the match awards, against Wales and Italy, and scored 42 points, from seven penalties, eight conversions and one try, to enhance his growing reputation.
Champions England have three players in the dozen nominated, with Maro Itoje, Owen Farrell and Joe Launchbury regarded as amongst the favourites.
France duo Louis Picamoles and Camille Lopez, CJ Stander and Conor Murray from Ireland, Wales pair Rhys Webb and Ken Owens, and Italy captain Sergio Parisse make up the dozen on the short-list.
Public voting for the award via the official Six Nations website closes at 12 noon on Tuesday.