Going into the final round of Six Nations matches on Saturday, however, they stand on the verge of a remarkable rise into the top four.
Wales’ 22-9 victory over Ireland in their last match gave them a significant rankings boost and the prospect of a smoother run to the World Cup knockout stages.
Another victory over France in Paris, where they have won on their last two visits, coupled with an English success over Ireland in Dublin would put the Welsh among the top seeds for the World Cup draw in Kyoto on May 10.
That would mean avoiding world champions New Zealand, Australia and England in the pool stages of the competition, with all three of those sides assured of a place in Pot 1.
Ireland will stay in their current fourth position in the rankings if they do not lose to England regardless of what happens in other matches, a significant carrot for them as they seek to end the 18-game winning run of Eddie Jones’s side.
With Wales no longer in danger of slipping out of the top eight, it is France and Scotland who now face that prospect.
It was a fate that befell Wales before the 2015 World Cup, in which they ended up in a pool with Australia and England.
The loss of one of the game’s major powers in the opening round, in that case tournament hosts England, was a blow to the image of the sport.
France would need to lose by more than 15 points in Paris to slip below ninth-placed Argentina, which is the same scenario for Scotland against Italy at Murrayfield.
If both lose by more than 15 points it is the Scots who would be the lower ranked side.
(Reporting by Nick Said, editing by Ed Osmond)