Japan and Fiji will join the Six Nations in an autumn tournament which has been hastily arranged to compensate for the European tour schedule being scratched.
The tournament, in which the teams will divided into two pools, will start on 14 November following the conclusion of this season’s delayed Six Nations. New Zealand, South Africa, Australia and Argentina are not available to play Tests, as they will be playing the delayed Rugby Championship in October.
It will mean Ireland and Italy will play six Tests, double the normal autumn load for them, and England will start their campaign on 25 October against the Barbarians, but World Rugby has agreed a one-off extension of the regulation governing the release of players.
England, Wales, Ireland and Fiji will make up one pool with France, Scotland, Italy and Japan the other. Teams will play the other sides in their group once and on the final weekend will all face the sides in the other pool who finished in the same position.
Japan will be at a disadvantage because their league was cancelled in February and the next campaign does not kick off until January. The national side’s summer series against England was cancelled and they were due to play Scotland and Ireland in November.
Georgia were considered but, after reaching the quarter-finals of the World Cup they hosted last year, Japan were considered the greater commercial draw at a time when the unions are in pressing need of revenue, while a number of Fiji’s players are based in Europe. England, France, Ireland and Italy expect fans to be allowed back into sports grounds by October, although with capacities at no more than half, but Wales will not return to the Principality Stadium until next year.
The schedule, which will be ratified next month, means England’s Premiership clubs will be without their international players for the first three weeks of the 2020-21 campaign, while the weekend after the final round of the eight nations tournament is meant to be the start of the European Champions Cup and the Challenge Cup, competitions that have been shortened by one week because of the late start to the club season.