The first Autumn Nations Cup competition swings into action on Friday when Ireland host Wales in Dublin.
Here, the PA news agency looks at the eight-team tournament as it prepares to take centre-stage.
What is the Autumn Nations Cup?
Eight teams will battle it out for glory over four weekends in a rugby extravaganza! This is a tournament not to be missed!
— Autumn Nations Cup 🏉 (@autumnnations) November 9, 2020
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?
— Welsh Rugby Union 🏉 (@WelshRugbyUnion) November 9, 2020
The competition comprises all of the Guinness Six Nations countries – England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, France and Italy – plus Fiji and Georgia. Japan originally intended to take part, but withdrew because of travel restrictions and were replaced by Georgia. England, Wales, Ireland and Georgia will form one group, with the other comprising Scotland, France, Italy and Fiji, 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. 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. Gabby Logan will front Amazon’s coverage, with punditry provided by the likes of Sam Warburton, Dylan Hartley, John Barclay and Serge Betsen.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) November 9, 2020
With the Covid-delayed 2020 Guinness Six Nations Championship only being completed last month, it is difficult to look beyond newly-crowned champions England and resurgent France contesting the Autumn Nations Cup final. A compromise deal struck between French clubs and the French Rugby Federation, though, after an increase of autumn fixtures mean 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, Scotland appear strong dark horses and Ireland can never be written off, but Wales have it all to do following a dramatic form slump.
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.