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.
Here’s everything you need to know about the new tournament...
What is it and how will 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 will conclude two weeks before the start of the Autumn Nations Cup.
There will be two pools of four countries in the tournament. Group A consists of England, Ireland, Wales, and Georgia, and Group B is France, Scotland, Italy, and Fiji.
Each team will play the teams in their group once by the end of the third weekend.
Based on the group 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 Group A and Group 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 will be played over the four weekends from 13 November, 2020 to 6 December, 2020.
When are the matches?
The Autumn Nations Cup tournament kicks off with an exciting clash between Ireland and Wales on 13 November, followed by Italy v Scotland, and England v Georgia on Saturday, 14 November, and France v Fiji on Sunday, 15 November.
The second round starts on Saturday, 21 November with three matches: Italy v Fiji, England v Ireland, and Wales v Georgia. The last match of the second round takes place on Sunday, 22 November with Scotland v France.
Round three starts with Scotland v Fiji on Saturday, 28 November, followed by Wales v England and France v Italy on the same day. The final match of the rounds is on Sunday, 29 November, with Ireland v Georgia.
The finals weekend starts on Saturday, 5 December, with the locations of the matches already decided. Georgia will face their opponent at Murrayfield, Ireland will play in the Aviva Stadium, England at Twickenham, and Wales will play at home, but are yet to confirm the venue.
The full fixture list is as follows:
13 November: Ireland v Wales (Aviva Stadium) - 19:00 (UK time)
14 November: Italy v Scotland (TBC) - 12:45
14 November: England v Georgia (Twickenham) - 15:00
15 November: France v Fiji (TBC) - TBC
21 November: Italy v Fiji (TBC) - 12:45
21 November: England v Ireland (Twickenham) - 15:00
21 November: Wales v Georgia (TBC) - 17:15
22 November: Scotland v France (Murrayfield) - 15:00
28 November: Scotland v Fiji (Murrayfield) - 13:45
28 November: Wales v England (TBC) - 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 (TBC) - 16:45
6 December: England v TBC (Twickenham) - 14:00
Where will matches be played?
So far, Ireland has confirmed they will play their home fixtures at the Aviva Stadium (Dublin), England will welcome visiting teams to Twickenham (London), and Scotland will play their home matches at Murrayfield (Edinburgh).
The Welsh Rugby Union is yet to confirm Wales’ home stadium, as the Principality Stadium in Cardiff is currently being decommissioned as a field hospital, used during the peak of the coronavirus pandemic. France have announced that one of their home fixtures will be played at the Stade de France; Italy are yet to confirm the location of their home matches.
The finals weekend will be played across the UK and Ireland, with Georgia’s home match being played at Murrayfield, Ireland playing at the Aviva Stadium, and England at Twickenham. Wales will also be at home for their final match, in an unconfirmed location.
Is this instead of the Six Nations?
No, there are still matches to be played in round four and five of the 2020 Six Nations Championship.
To conclude round four of the Six Nations, Ireland will face Italy on 24 October in Dublin.
All fixtures in round five will take place on 31 October, with Wales v Scotland, Italy v England, and France v Ireland.
The Autumn Nations Cup 2020 will take place two weeks after the final round of the Six Nations.
Will the women’s teams be competing?
No – the women’s teams will not mirror this tournament. England and France will play each other in two matches, one in France on Saturday, 14 November, and one on 21 November, which will be played at Twickenham before the England men’s team face Ireland.
Ireland, Italy and Scotland will be busy in the weeks around the tournament, as they look to qualify for Rugby World Cup 2021.
A round robin tournament between the three sides and the winner of the Rugby Europe Women’s Championship 2020 will take place on the weekends of 5, 12 and 19 December.
Christmas will come early for rugby fans, as on 5 December, there will not only be three international fixtures in the Autumn Nations Cup finals weekend, but also potentially two matches in the Rugby Europe RWC 2021 qualification tournament, including Italy v Scotland.
Where will it be shown on television?
Amazon Prime is the main broadcaster of this competition, with fans able to stream every match online.
Some matches will be available to watch on terrestrial television. Channel 4 (and RTE in Ireland) will show Ireland’s fixtures as well, including the tournament’s opening nail-biting clash between Wales and Ireland. 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.
Will tickets be available?
This has not been confirmed at the moment, due to the restrictions on public gatherings in place.
What can we expect to see?
This inaugural tournament promises some mouth-watering clashes.
The sides in the Six Nations will enter this tournament having played just two weeks before. While we don’t yet know the results of this year’s Six Nations Championship, it’s certain that some teams will be fighting to rectify mistakes, and others keen to hold on to their glory.
Georgia will also see their participation as a huge opportunity to impress.
Wales fans will be hoping for success under new head coach Wayne Pivac. The Welsh side face Ireland in the opening match, looking to make up for their 24-14 defeat against Ireland in this year’s Six Nations Championship.
Ireland will have a tough fight for top of their group and will remember their 24-12 defeat against England earlier this year. The team will have to play two tough matches against England and Wales to reach the group’s number one position.
The most crucial match for Group A could be England v Wales in round three of the tournament, a fixture that always produces dramatic rugby and intense rivalry. Both teams could be competing for first place in this clash, which promises to be tight. In February, England edged a 33-30 win against Wales in a physical match of small margins which produced some beautiful rugby.
Group B (France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji) is hard to predict, but will see some exciting fixtures.
Fiji provided fans with one of the most memorable matches in the group stage of Rugby World Cup 2019 against Wales, a close match which saw Fiji lose 29-17.
The first-round match between Fiji and France will be a chance for the French side to rectify their November 2018 defeat to Fiji, who won the match 21-17.
Scotland will be an exciting team to follow in this group. Their final round against Fiji, who they beat 54-17 in 2018, could well be one of the most thrilling matches of the tournament.
Italy meanwhile, having lost 17-0 to Scotland and 35-22 to France in this year’s Six Nations, will be determined to return the favour against both sides. Their second-round fixture against Fiji will certainly be one to watch.
The finals week, with its exciting format seeing the teams face the side that came in the same position in the opposite group, means each team has something to play for in the final weekend. International rugby is well and truly back.