Autumn Nations Cup 2020: Format, fixtures, coverage and players to watch

Stay home.

Rugby’s southern-hemisphere superpowers are certainly sticking to the UK government’s advice.

Usually, at this time of year, New Zealand, South Africa and Australia would migrate north for the autumn Tests.

Not in 2020. The Springboks are confined to barracks. Australia and New Zealand have played each other four times in less than a month in front of home crowds of maskless thousands, with coronavirus cases there relatively low.

And, in their absence, in the north, a new concept has been cooked up: the Autumn Nations Cup.

It is international rugby, but not as we know it.

The format

The tournament involves eight teams, split into two pools.

Pool A comprises England, Ireland, Wales and Georgia. Pool B is France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji.

Each team plays every other team in their group over three successive weekends, starting on Friday, to complete the pool stages.

Then the top-ranked team in Pool A plays the top-ranked team in Pool B, the second-ranked team in Pool A plays their equivalent in Pool B and so on for a final weekend of fixtures to decide the final placings.

The teams

The Six Nations, interrupted by the outbreak of coronavirus, only ended just over a week ago. Instead of the usual 11-month break from local rivalries, those same teams are being thrown back into competition.

And the storylines continue.

Will newly-crowned champions England add world rugby’s newest title to one of its oldest?

Can Scotland build on a Six Nations campaign that gathered strength as it went?

Can Wayne Pivac rediscover Wales’ mojo after five defeats in their past six games?

Will Ireland, two years on from an historic win over New Zealand in Dublin, find that fluency, urgency and accuracy again?

And, will the rebirth of France continue with their collection of thrilling backs and formidable forwards?

Originally, it was Japan and Fiji who were going to join the existing Six Nations teams to make up the tournament.

However, coronavirus restrictions forced Japan to withdraw and opened the way for Georgia to get involved.

Georgia are currently two places higher than Italy in the world rankings.

With the Azzurri having lost their past 27 Six Nations matches, and Georgia well backed by finances and fans, some have suggested that one could replace the other in the Six Nations.

Although the teams are in separate groups, a final-round showdown between the two could carry some spice.

Fiji have not played since the 2019 World Cup, but the way they ran both Australia and Wales close in their pool games in Japan marks them out as threats to anyone. Former Scotland coach Vern Cotter is now in charge.

The players

Here are four players to look out for over the four weeks.

Semi Radradra – Fiji

Believe the hype. The Fijian centre arrived at Bristol on big money earlier this year and has thrived with big line breaks and slick hands. He suffered a hamstring injury en route to winning the European Challenge Cup with the Bears but has been tipped to recover in time to make an impact.

Jamie Ritchie – Scotland

The Edinburgh flanker’s breakdown brilliance pooped Wales captain Alun Wyn Jones’ party in the final round of Six Nations matches. There is plenty of competition in the back row but he has been earmarked as a potential British and Irish Lions tourist next summer.

Louis Rees-Zammit – Wales

Current England coach Eddie Jones, former England player Andy Goode and England football legend Paul Scholes have all enquired about his international eligibility. All got the same reply. The 19-year-old Gloucester wing came off the bench to win his first cap against France in October. A sharp eye for a gap and a trunkload of gas to exploit it.

Ollie Lawrence – England

The 21-year-old Worcester centre is an intriguing combination of power, pace and canny running lines. England coach Jones drew a comparison with New Zealand breakthrough talent Caleb Clarke. With Manu Tuilagi out injured, this might be his chance to shine.

The venues

England, Ireland and Scotland will all play their home matches in their traditional homes, with Twickenham, the Aviva Stadium and Murrayfield available for use, if not open to spectators.

With the Principality Stadium still in use as a field hospital to help cope with the pandemic, Wales will play their home games at Parc y Scarlets in Llanelli.

France and Italy are also playing in less familiar surroundings with their opening fixtures in Vannes and Florence respectively.

The final weekend will all take place in the UK and Ireland with Georgia playing their Pool B equivalents at Murrayfield and fellow Pool A sides England, Wales and Ireland all enjoying home advantage.

The coverage

The tournament marks Amazon Prime’s first foray into rugby. The internet giant has already snapped up rights to some Premier League football and US Open tennis. It will show 14 of the 16 matches from the tournament.

Free-to-air broadcaster Channel Four will share coverage of England’s meeting with Ireland on 21 November, exclusively show the Ireland v Wales tournament opener on 13 November, and Ireland v Georgia on 29 November.

Every Wales match will also be shown on Welsh-language channel S4C.

BBC Radio 5 Live will have live commentary of every match involving England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland, while there will be live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

The fixtures (all times GMT)

Round one

13 November: Group A: Ireland v Wales (Aviva Stadium) 19:00

14 November: Group B: Italy v Scotland (Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence) 12:45

14 November: Group A: England v Georgia (Twickenham) 15:00

15 November: Group B: France v Fiji (Stade de la Rabine, Vannes) 15:15

Round two

21 November: Group B: Italy v Fiji (Stadio del Conero, Ancona) 12:45

21 November: Group A: England v Ireland (Twickenham) 15:00

21 November: Group A: Wales v Georgia (Parc y Scarlets) 17:15

22 November: Group B: Scotland v France (Murrayfield) 15:00

Round three

28 November: Group B: Scotland v Fiji (Murrayfield) 13:45

28 November: Group A: Wales v England (Parc y Scarlets) 16:00

28 November: Group B: France v Italy (Stade de France) 20:00

29 November: Group A: Ireland v Georgia (Aviva Stadium) 14:00

Finals weekend

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

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