Autumn Nations Cup: Key players, format explained and TV details
The first Autumn Nations Cup competition swings into action on Friday when Ireland host Wales in Dublin. Scotland play their opening match against Italy in Florence on Saturday. Here’s what you need to know abnout the new tournament:
What is the Autumn Nations Cup?
The Autumn Nations Cup is a new, potentially one-off, tournament involving eight countries. It has replaced the normal autumn Test match schedule that traditionally sees rugby superpowers like New Zealand, South Africa and Australia travel to the northern hemisphere in November, but this year was scrapped as teams avoided extended travel because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Nations Cup will take place in eight different venues – London, Paris, Edinburgh, Dublin, Llanelli, Florence, Ancona and Vannes – between November 13 and December 6.
What is the tournament’s format?
The competition comprises all of the Guinness Six Nations countries – Scotland, England, Ireland, Wales, France and Italy – plus Fiji and Georgia. Japan originally intended to take part, but withdrew because of travel restrictions and were replaced by Georgia. Scotland, France, Italy and Fiji will form one group, with the other comprising England, Wales, Ireland and Georgia, with each team playing three pool matches before the competition concludes on December 5-6 with a final between group winners, plus play-offs for minor placings where countries face a team ranked in the same position in the opposite pool.
Which channels are broadcasting it?
Amazon Prime Video’s first entry into the rugby market sees them as main broadcasters of the competition, showing 14 from 16 games live, including all the Scotland matches. Channel 4 will screen Ireland’s home matches against Wales and Georgia, and join Amazon in broadcasting England versus Ireland live from Twickenham on November 21. Welsh language channel S4C will broadcast all Wales’ games on a free to air basis. Gabby Logan will front Amazon’s coverage, with punditry provided by the likes of Sam Warburton, Dylan Hartley, John Barclay and Serge Betsen.
With the Covid-delayed 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship only being completed last month, newly-crowned champions England will fancy their chances along with a resurgent France. But in-form Scotland appear strong dark horses and Ireland can never be written off. France could be hindered by the compromise deal struck between their clubs and the French Rugby Federation which means some Les Bleus players can only feature in one Nations Cup match if they played against Wales and Ireland last month, which could affect title chances. Elsewhere, Wales have it all to do following a dramatic form slump that saw the defending Grand Slam champions lose four of their five 2020 Six Nations matches.
Players to watch
The 2021 Six Nations is just three months away from kick-off, so it will be fascinating to see how coaches approach the Nations Cup. Some may use it with a bigger picture such as the 2023 World Cup in mind, so it could be a chance to see players like exciting Wales prospects Callum Sheedy and Louis Rees-Zammit given an opportunity. France boss Fabien Galthie might well go down that route, while England head coach Eddie Jones has the likes of uncapped Wasps pair Jack Willis and Jacob Umaga in his squad, plus centres Ollie Lawrence and Joe Marchant. A degree of experimentation is likely, but also expect world stars such as Owen Farrell, Billy Vunipola, Stuart Hogg, Alun Wyn Jones and Semi Radradra to play pivotal roles.
Autumn Nations Cup fixtures and TV details
Friday 13 November
Ireland v Wales (Aviva Stadium, 7.30pm, Channel 4 & S4C)
Saturday 14 November
Italy v Scotland (Stadio Artemio Franchi, Florence, 12.45pm, Amazon Prime Video)
England v Georgia (Twickenham, 3pm, Amazon Prime Video)
Sunday 15 November
France v Fiji (Stade de la Rabine, Vannes, 3pm, Amazon Prime Video)
Saturday 21 November
Italy v Fiji (Aviva Stadium, 12.45pm, Amazon Prime Video)
England v Ireland (Twickenham, 3pm, Amazon Prime Video & Channel 4)
Wales v Georgia (Parc y Scarlets, 5.15pm, Amazon Prime Video & S4C)
Sunday 22 November
Scotland v France (BT Murrayfield, 3.15pm, Amazon Prime Video)
Saturday 28 November
Scotland v Fiji (BT Murrayfield, 1.45pm, Amazon Prime Video)
Wales v England (Parc y Scarlets, 4pm, Amazon Prime Video & S4C)
France v Italy (Stade de France, 8.10pm, Amazon Prime Video)
Sunday 29 November
Ireland v Georgia (Aviva Stadium, 2pm, Channel 4)
Saturday 5 December
Georgia v TBD (BT Murrayfield, 12pm, Amazon Prime Video)
Ireland v TBD (Aviva Stadium, 2.15pm, Amazon Prime Video)
Wales v TBD (Parc y Scarlets, 4.45pm, Amazon Prime Video & S4C)
Sunday 6 December
England v TBD (Twickenham, 2pm, Amazon Prime Video)