Rugby Championship and European tournament planned for later this year

Rugby’s 2020 autumn Internationals schedule taking shape 

Since the Wales v Scotland Six Nations match was cancelled at the last minute in mid-March, Test rugby has had to take a backseat as the sport navigates its way through the Covid-19 pandemic.

More pressing issues like struggling finances, training during lockdown and restarting domestic competitions came to the fore in rugby while global events like the 15-a-side summer tours and World Sevens Series were cancelled. Yet there are promising signs regarding the return of international rugby.

Super Rugby competitions are well underway in New Zealand and Australia while the remaining rounds of  the Gallagher Premiership are due to kick off on 14 August with the Guinness Pro14 restarting a week later. Now the 2020 autumn Internationals schedule is starting to take shape too.

Rugby Championship

Southern foes: NZ’s Jordie Barrett passes against Australia in last year’s Rugby Championship (Getty Images)

The World Rugby Council has approved the governing body’s recommendation of a longer international window later this year, with the objective of “optimising recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic for the betterment of the global game at all levels”.

Travel restrictions mean the original November Test schedule, with southern hemisphere sides travelling to Europe, cannot take place, but there are plans for top-level competitions on both sides of the equator.

The Rugby Championship, which features Argentina, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, will take place over six weeks from 7 November until 12 December in a single country. SANZAAR has asked New Zealand to host and visiting teams may be required to quarantine before the start of the competition, much like the West Indies cricket team before their recent Test series against England.

Guinness Six Nations

Leading men: Ireland captain Johnny Sexton and Italy skipper Luca Bigi (Getty Images)

In the northern hemisphere, the Six Nations matches postponed due to coronavirus will take place at the end of October. So in the men’s championship, Ireland are set to play Italy on Saturday 24 October before the final round of fixtures – France v Ireland, Italy v England, Wales v Scotland – the following weekend.

The Women’s Six Nations is slightly more complicated because there are six matches to reschedule, including three apiece for Scotland and Italy, so those matches might run into November. England Women are also set to play a Test series against France in November.

As for the remainder of the men’s calendar, 7-8 November has been designated as a rest weekend followed by a series of Tests from 14 November to 5 December.

It has been widely reported that this international programme will feature the Six Nations sides as well as Fiji and Japan, with the eight teams split into two groups.

England, Fiji, Ireland and Wales are set to be in one pool with France, Italy, Japan and Scotland in the other. After playing the other teams in their pool, a finals weekend will see the table-toppers in each group play each other as well as 2nd v 2nd and so on.

It is not yet known whether fans will be able to attend these autumn matches but unions will be hoping their governments permit crowds, even if socially distanced, to boost those struggling finances.

Rugby’s 2020 autumn Internationals schedule taking shape

Mind the gap: England’s Kyle Sinckler takes on the Fiji defence in 2016 (Getty Images)

World Rugby is also working with emerging unions in the hope of arranging fixtures for other countries too.

Both the Top 14 and Premiership clubs have been critical of the proposed Test schedule as it means top players will be missing for domestic duty on certain weekends. For example, the English top flight is due to start its 2020-21 season on 20 November.

However, the World Rugby Council approved the changing 2020’s Regulation Nine window, which governs the release of international players by the clubs, at a meeting on 30 July.

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