The November internationals offer some of the most hotly anticipated fixtures on the annual test calendar. Every year we’re lucky enough to witness a battle of the hemispheres as the south and north clash to determine where the power lies in the test arena.
This year, despite the COVID-19 pandemic making the traditional November international fixtures we’ve come to expect not possible, an exciting alternative has been announced in their place: the Autumn Nations Cup.
We’ve already seen two impressive England victories over Georgia and Ireland, Wales, having earlier lost to Ireland, ending a run of six successive defeats, France overcoming Scotland in a tense affair at Murrayfield, the Scots coming from behind to fly home from Italy victorious in Round 1, and the unfortunate cancellation of Fiji’s opening three matches.
With two rounds left, it’s looking likely that England and France will top their pools and meet on the final weekend. But there’s still plenty to play for.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new tournament...
What is it and how does it work?
This new international competition is between England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France, Italy, Fiji, and Georgia. Although all countries in the Six Nations Championship are competing, this is not in place of the tournament, which concluded two weeks before the start of the Autumn Nations Cup.
There are two pools of four countries in the tournament. Pool A consists of England, Ireland, Wales, and Georgia, and Pool B is France, Scotland, Italy, and Fiji.
Each team will play the teams in their pool once by the end of the third weekend.
Based on the pool rankings coming into the final weekend, each team will face the team ranked in the same position in the opposite pool. This means the teams who come first in Pool A and Pool B will compete for first place, the teams who come second will compete for second place and so on.
All sixteen matches of the new tournament are scheduled to be played over the four weekends from 13 November, 2020 to 6 December, 2020.
What happened in Round 1?
In the first game of the tournament in Dublin on Friday night, Ireland proved too strong in the set-piece as Wales slipped to a sixth straight defeat under new head coach Wayne Pivac.
With 58 per cent of the possession going to Ireland, Wales rarely had a sniff of the home side’s try-line in Dublin, with every Welsh point in a 32-9 defeat coming from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny.
On Saturday, Jamie George became the first England hooker to score a hat-trick of tries in Tests in a convincing wet-weather 40-0 victory over Georgia.
Earlier on Saturday, Scotland came from behind to beat Italy, 28-17. Italy went into the break 11-7 up after Matteo Minozzi finished off a well-worked try, but Scotland muscled their way back into the contest to claim the bonus-point.
Meanwhile, Sunday’s fixture between France and Fiji was called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Fiji squad. France were awarded a 28-0 victory.
What happened in Round 2?
Virimi Vakatawa’s 10th test try proved decisive as France took a large stride towards topping Pool B with a 22-15 defeat of Scotland at Murrayfield.
With the match locked at 12-12 Vakatawa finished off a fine team move early in the second half, to give his side a lead they would not relinquish, despite some anxious moments late on in Edinburgh.
On Saturday, two first-half Jonny May tries helped England seize control of Pool A with an 18-7 victory against Ireland at Twickenham.
May’s second try – his 31st in test rugby – will live long in the memory as he ran from deep inside his own 22, beating the Irish defensive line and chipping over full-back Hugo Keenan before winning the race to the bouncing ball.
Meanwhile, Wales ended a run of six successive defeats with victory against Georgia in Llanelli. Winger Louis Rees-Zammit capped his first test start with his maiden international try, while Callum Sheedy kicked eight points and Rhys Webb added a late score.
Italy’s match against Fiji was cancelled due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the Fijian squad, and was awarded as a 28-0 victory to the hosts.
Who are still to play?
The Autumn Nations Cup third round starts on Saturday, 28 November with two matches: England travel to Wales looking to top Pool A with a third successive win; Wales on the other hand will be out to continue their return to winning ways. France play host to Italy as they look for the same outcome as England; Italy will be playing for their first on-pitch win of the tournament. On Sunday, Ireland take on Georgia, hoping for a win and an England slip up in Wales.
The finals weekend starts on Saturday, 5 December.
The remaining fixtures are as follows:
28 November: Wales v England (Parc y Scarlets) - 16:00
28 November: France v Italy (Stade de France) - 20:00
29 November: Ireland v Georgia (Aviva Stadium) - 14:00
5 December: Georgia v TBC (Murrayfield) - 12:00
5 December: Ireland v TBC (Aviva Stadium) - 14:15
5 December: Wales v TBC (Parc y Scarlets) - 16:45
6 December: England v TBC (Twickenham) - 14:00
Where are matches being played?
Ireland are playing their home fixtures at the Aviva Stadium (Dublin), England are welcoming visiting teams to Twickenham (London), Scotland are playing their home matches at Murrayfield (Edinburgh), and Wales are hosting teams at Parc y Scarlets (Llanelli), as the Principality Stadium in Cardiff is currently being decommissioned as a field hospital.
Italy are playing their home fixtures at the Stadio Del Conero (Ancona), while France are welcoming teams at the Stade de France (Paris).
The finals weekend will be played across the UK and Ireland, with Georgia’s home match at Murrayfield, Ireland’s at the Aviva Stadium, England’s at Twickenham, and Wales’ at Parc y Scarlets.
Is this instead of the Six Nations?
No. The Autumn Nations Cup 2020 began two weeks after the final round of the Six Nations Championship, which England won in the tournament’s final round.
Are the women’s teams be competing?
France Rugby took on Scottish Rugby team yesterday at Murrayfield. Could they win their first official match? 🤔— Autumn Nations Cup 🏉 (@autumnnations) November 23, 2020
Watch the full highlights right here! 🍿#SCOvFRA #AutumnNationsCup pic.twitter.com/vA6djMEnZf
No – the women’s teams will not mirror this tournament. England and France played a two-test series, which the Red Roses emerged from as 2-0 victors.
Ireland, Italy and Scotland were set to be busy in the weeks around the tournament, as they looked to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021 in a round robin tournament. However, that tournament has since been postponed to early 2021.
Where is it being shown on television?
Amazon Prime is the main broadcaster of this competition, with fans able to stream 14 of the 16 matches in the Autumn Nations Cup.
Some matches will be available to watch on terrestrial television. For UK audiences, Channel 4 (and RTE in Ireland) will show Ireland’s fixtures against Wales, England and Georgia. Channel 4 will also show highlights from all rounds.
Every Wales match in the Autumn Nations Cup will also be shown on S4C, a Welsh language channel. Viewers based in France will be able to watch local coverage on France 2.
Will tickets be available?
It remains unclear if fans will be permitted to attend any Autumn Nations Cup 2020 fixtures. This will depend on what restrictions are in place within each country or region.