Autumn Nations Cup formed, Australia lands Rugby Championship

Six Nations Rugby, together with its constituent unions and federations, has announced the formation of the Autumn Nations Cup, while Australia has been selected to host an amended version of this year’s Rugby Championship.

The Autumn Nations Cup is designed to be a special event to replace the traditional Autumn International window for 2020, with COVID-19 meaning that travel restrictions would have prevented certain international teams from travelling to Europe to compete in the scheduled fixtures.

Taking place over four weekends from November 13 to December 6, the Autumn Nations Cup will comprise the Six Nations teams, plus Georgia and Fiji. The format will be two pools of four – Group A will include England, Ireland, Wales and Georgia, with Group B comprising of France, Scotland, Italy and Fiji. The action will commence with Ireland taking on Wales at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin.

The Autumn Nations Cup will conclude on the weekend of December 5-6 with a special final round of matches. Based on the pool rankings coming into the final weekend, each team will face off against the team ranked in their same position in the opposite pool.

Six Nations Rugby, which last month confirmed the schedule for the remaining matches in this year’s Six Nations, said it remains in close contact with all relevant authorities across the respective jurisdictions to ensure matches take place in a safe environment. It said it will announce further details of health and safety protocols and guidance on potential spectator attendance in due course.

There is also the small matter of Wales securing an alternative venue to host its games. In July, the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) confirmed that Principality Stadium will be off limits for the remainder of the year with the facility being drafted in as a field hospital during COVID-19. The WRU yesterday (Thursday) said details on the venues for Wales’ home matches will be announced in “due course”.

Commenting on the formation of the Autumn Nations Cup, Six Nations Rugby CEO Ben Morel said: “A significant amount of time and effort has gone into delivering this new tournament format in testing circumstances and the spirit of collaboration amongst key stakeholders has been outstanding.

“While the challenges presented by the COVID-19 pandemic made the traditional Autumn Test window unfeasible, we remained determined to deliver a unique and compelling tournament proposition which would ensure world class rugby for our fans globally, and competitive matches for players, unions and federations.”

Meanwhile, SANZAAR, the organisation gathering the South African, New Zealand, Australian and Argentinian rugby unions, has decided that Australia will host the 2020 Rugby Championship (TRC) in November and December.

All of SANZAAR’s four member unions will participate, with the decision coming after a detailed assessment of tournament hosting submissions from New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia. The tournament was moved from its traditional August-September window due to the ongoing effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Indeed, New Zealand had been expected to host after SANZAAR in July said it was the “favoured option” for a 2020 TRC held in one location. However, New Zealand’s comparatively stricter quarantine regulations is said to have put paid to this plan.

TRC matches will now be played in Australia within the recently announced World Rugby sanctioned Southern Hemisphere playing window of November 7 to December 12. The tournament will comprise a six -week, 12-match, home and away tournament. Rugby Australia said the matches will be primarily played in New South Wales, with a round in Queensland.

SANZAAR CEO Andy Marinos said: “Traditionally TRC is played as an international, cross-border series of home and away matches between Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa but due to the pandemic this is obviously not possible this year.

“We have, therefore, worked very hard as a group to ensure TRC takes place this year, albeit in one country, and SANZAAR was meticulous in assessing the two options for hosting presented to it by New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia.

“SANZAAR ultimately determined that based on government required quarantine protocols (for entry and training prior to the tournament) and commercial underwriting, the Rugby Australia submission was the most desirable and workable in terms of tournament logistics for the essential pre-tournament preparation period and the six-week tournament itself.”

Marinos said SANZAAR is currently working through the refinement of the detailed planning with Rugby Australia and hopes to announce match venues, dates and kick-off times in the “very near future”.

He added: “We are cognisant of the fact that the COVID pandemic environment continues to change and throw up obstacles but we are confident that our plans are robust and we will naturally build in contingency measures to suit any further changes.”

The award of the hosting rights is a major boost for Rugby Australia, which has suffered a significant financial impact from COVID-19. Interim CEO Rob Clarke said: “I want to thank our Government partners, particularly the New South Wales Government who have backed us to secure the tournament and they will be delighted to hear of SANZAAR’s support. We will now knuckle down to make these plans a reality.”

Image: Six Nations Rugby