Autumn Nations Cup preview and fixtures: Strength in depth French the way to go

Sporting Life previews rugby union's new Autumn Nations Cup

The 8/1 about France winning the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup didn’t last long, and understandably so. But Les Bleus can still be backed at a generous-looking 7/1 (Betway) in the tournament’s outright market.

As runners-up to England, France are coming off the back of their best finish in the Guinness Six Nations for nine years and would have won their first title in a decade had it not been for one lapse of concentration in Scotland.

That 28-17 loss at Murrayfield remains the only blot on Fabien Galthié’s six-game copybook and the early signs are that he could be just as successful as another former France scrum-half turned head coach, Pierre Berbizier, in turning Les Bleus into a force to be reckoned with.


Autumn Nations Cup explained

Pool A: England, Ireland, Wales, Georgia

Pool B: France, Scotland, Italy, Fiji

Format

Teams will play the other nations in their pool in a round-robin format before a finals weekend where the winners of each pool will play each other to be crowned champions. The runners-up and so on from each pool will also play each other (IE: Pool A second place v Pool B second place) to determine final rankings.

Where to watch

Every game, except Ireland’s home matches against Wales and Georgia, will be on Amazon Prime Video.

Channel 4 will also show Ireland v Wales, England v Ireland and Ireland v Georgia, as well as highlights from all four rounds.

S4C will show all Wales’ matches, while RTE is the place to watch Ireland games in the Republic of Ireland.

All fixtures at bottom of this article


France can be confidently backed to top Pool B (4/6) and set up a trophy decider against the winners of Pool A, which includes England (4/7) and Six Nations rivals Ireland, (2/1) plus Wales (5/1) and Georgia (500/1).

That would see us enter a one-off game with a 7/1 ticket and looks by far the best way to attack the market.

Galthié has largely stuck with the squad that only lost out to England on points difference, including Six Nations Player of the Championship Antoine Dupont, but with the likes of former U20s star, Cameron Woki added to the mix.

While Galthié has limitations on how much game time his players can play as part of an agreement between the French union and the LNR, the organisation in charge of top-level club rugby, they have a new-found strength-in-depth that should see them safely negotiate games against Fiji, Scotland and Italy.

Les Bleus kick off their campaign, on November 15, with a home game in Vannes against a Fiji side that hasn’t played for over 400 days.

It would be a major shock if France slipped up in that one, even though some of Fiji’s squad have been ripping it up in the Top 14 and they beat France last time out on a famous night in Paris in November 2018.

France scrum-half Antoine Dupont was named 2020 Six Nations Player of the Championship

France’s round two fixture against Scotland at Murrayfield comes 10 months after Mohamed Haouas’ first-half red card ruined their Grand Slam hopes there.

Scotland have returned from lockdown in good spirits if not good health. Gregor Townsend’s side enjoyed a convincing 48-7 victory over Georgia before rounding off their Six Nations campaign with a first win in Wales since 2002.

However, that ground-breaking result came at a cost with injuries to their two leading 10s, Finn Russell and Adam Hastings. As well as he has been playing for Worcester, Duncan Weir is not quite in the same class.

Also, you have to bear in mind who they were playing – a very poor Wales side. While the 14-10 win in Llanelli shows they have a new-found determination to close results out, it doesn’t inspire confidence that they can turn it on against much better sides like France.

After years of playing against type, the French appear to have rediscovered their joie de vivre with ball in hand. But their success under Galthié is not all down to the attack. With Shaun Edwards on board, they have a renewed appetite for defence, too.

Last and definitely least is their game against Italy. The Azzurri’s record losing run in the Six Nations now stands at 27 and they have shown very few signs under Franco Smith that they are about to turn the tide.

Galthié will probably have the luxury of being able to rest some of his frontline players for that game ahead of what should be a title decider against England at Twickenham, on December 6.

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Autumn Nations Cup Fixtures

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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