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The French connection

From Bod’s hat-trick to Sexton’s drop-goal, no opponent has defined this Irish rugby century quite like France

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The Six Nations isn't the only European tournament kicking off in February

By Tom Vinicombe
Beka Saginadze. (Photo by Levan Verdzeuli/Getty Images)

While Europe’s tier-one nations will inevitably have one eye on the World Cup later this year as they prepare for the upcoming kick-off of Six Nations, the same can’t be said for the second-tier sides who are also set to go to battle in February and March.

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Although three of the eight sides taking part in the Rugby Europe Championship will feature at France 2023, the majority of the nations involved will be chasing glory and nothing else in the reformated REC.

Georgia have been perpetual winners of the tier-two competition – sometimes referred to as the Six Nations B – claiming the title in the last five tournaments without losing a single match. Portugal came close to upsetting their more fancied opposition in Tbilisi last year but the home side rallied late to secure a 25-all draw – their only ‘blemish’ of the past half-decade.

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Portugal and Georgia will go to battle in a high-stakes match in Toulouse in September but could avoid each altogether in the Rugby Europe Championship this year, thanks to the new two-pool format.

The other side set to feature at the World Cup, Romania, will likely battle it out with Portugal to qualify for the REC semi-finals over the next two months. Rounding out Pool B are Belgium and Poland, two sides who topped the third flight of European rugby, the Rugby Europe Trophy, in 2022.

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In Pool A, Georgia will be hoping to assert their dominance ahead of France and their biggest challenge will come from a nation with plenty to prove in 2023, Spain.

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Los Leones were dumped out of the World Cup after fielding an ineligible player in two qualifying wins over the Netherlands over the past two years but were consistently the second-best side in the REC, dropping just one match last year – to Georgia.

The mid-February clash between the two nations – played in the north of Spain – will boast as much emotion as any Six Nations fixture, even if just 6,000 fans will be needed to fill out the relatively diminutive Campos del Malecón.

The Netherlands and newly promoted Germany make up the two remaining sides in the group, with the top two sides from each pool progressing through to the semi-finals in March.

For fans outside the eight participating countries, all matches will be streamed on the Rugby Europe website.

Rugby Europe Championship fixtures:

Round 1

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4/2 Romania v Poland
4/2 Portugal v Belgium
5/2 Georgia v Germany
5/2 Spain v Netherlands

Round 2

11/2 Netherlands v Georgia
11/2 Poland v Portugal
11/2 Belgium v Romania
12/2 Germany v Spain

Round 3

18/2 Germany v Netherlands
18/2 Spain v Georgia
18/2 Poland v Belgium
19/2 Portugal v Romania

Semi-finals 4/3 – 5/3

Finals 18/3 – 19/3

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