by Brendan Cole
The bare facts show that Ireland must beat Argentina on Saturday to stay in the top eight with both Scotland and Samoa in position to overtake them if they cannot do so.
In fact, Ireland would drop as low as 11th if they lost and Italy managed to beat Australia in Rome.
On the other hand, if Ireland can win, they will probably climb up to sixth place in the rankings.
To recap briefly, Ireland’s points total (79.04) was unaffected by the thrashing of Fiji in a non-cap international on Saturday, but Ireland actually climbed one place to seventh because of Wales’ loss to Samoa.
But while Ireland climbed a place, the overall picture actually changed for the worse.
First, Samoa's victory meant they climbed up to ninth place overall, where they are poised to overtake Ireland if Ireland slip up.
Meanwhile, Scotland managed to stay within 15 points of South Africa, while Tonga beat the USA on Saturday evening. That combination of results means that if Scotland beat Tonga by 15 points or more and Ireland lose to Argentina, Scotland will also overtake Ireland.
Wales: also in the fight to stay 'up'
Wales are also in a fight to stay in the top eight, but their position is actually less relevant to Ireland as even if they lose twice over the next two weeks, Wales will almost certainly not drop low enough for Ireland to stay ahead of them in the event of a loss to Argentina.
But Wales can be caught by Samoa and know they must secure a positive result against either New Zealand or Australia to stay 'up'.
An Irish defeat to Argentina would also be enough for Wales to stay in the top eight, as Scotland cannot catch Wales.
Does it all matter?
The answer to that question at both micro and macro level is undoubtedly ‘yes’.
Firstly, as everyone knows, the draw for RWC 2015 happens next month.
It has been pointed out that Ireland could end up with a similar draw regardless of whether they are in the second or third pot.
But that has actually changed significantly over the last fortnight.
Now, staying into the second pot will mean Ireland cannot be drawn with host nation England, Argentina or Samoa. Instead, they would get a top seed and either Wales, Scotland, Italy or Tonga.
It is also worth mentioning the unfavourable playing schedule Ireland would get by falling into the third rank of seeds.
It definitely matters.
Broadening the picture further, it is worth considering how the IRB ranking affects Ireland’s standing in the rugby world. Dropping to 11th in the world would represent a serious setback to the progress that has been made on that front since 1999, decisively separating Ireland from the bracket of nations immediately behind the SANZAR trio.
Ireland are at a low ebb and there is no doubt that the slew of injuries just before this series came at just the wrong time; the presence of Brian O’Driscoll or Paul O’Connell alone would probably have been enough to secure a win against South Africa.
Beating Argentina in Saturday’s Test is important in its own right.
Surviving the current slump and staying in touch with the top nations is equally crucial.
IRB World Rankings (19 November)
1. New Zealand 92.91
2. South Africa 86.05
3. Australia 85.94
4. France 84.99
5. England 81.96
6. Argentina 79.89
7. Ireland 79.04
8. Wales 78.95
9. Samoa 78.79
10. Scotland 77.42
11. Italy 76.61
12. Tonga 74.51