Rugby chiefs signalled the start of the race for valuable ranking points on Wednesday, announcing the draw for the 2023 World Cup in France would take place after this year's November internationals.
Automatically qualified nations for the 20-team tournament will be seeded based on their World Rugby rankings following the Test window and put into three bands of four teams.
The remaining eight teams will come through the global qualification process, which starts later this year, and will be placed into bands four and five based on relative strength.
But much can change in the years between the draw and the tournament. For example, 2019 hosts Japan were a band three team yet still beat Ireland and Scotland to reach the last eight before losing to eventual champions South Africa.
The 12 automatically qualified sides for France 2023, owing to top-three finishes in their respective World Cup groups last year, are South Africa, losing finalists England, Wales, New Zealand, Japan, France, Australia, Ireland, Scotland, Italy, Argentina and Fiji.
Europe's leading sides will have the first chance to bolster their rankings when the Six Nations gets under way this weekend.
World Rugby said the early draw would enable the France 2023 organising committee to optimise ticket sales ahead of the sale of Olympic Games tickets.
Tickets for the 2023 Rugby World Cup will be available from early 2021. The Olympics take place in Paris in 2024.
"With the World Rugby rankings determining the bands for the RWC 2023 pool draw, it promises to be a fascinating year of men's international rugby with every match counting towards seeding at the end of the November Test series, which is exciting for fans," said World Rugby chairman Bill Beaumont.
The draw will take place in Paris at a venue and on a date World Rugby said would be "announced shortly".