Ireland will be the first team feature in this year’s inaugural winter competition. They host Wales in Dublin for the Autumn Nations Cup opener on Friday 13th of November.
This tournament was founded to replace the regular Autumn Internationals. Ireland were due to play world cup winners South Africa, as well as Japan and Australia in the Autumn Guinness Series Tests. Due to Covid-19, the southern hemisphere teams are subject to travel restrictions and cannot make the annual tour of the European nations.
Instead, an eight-team tournament will take place. Georgia and Fiji combine with the 6 Nations sides to form two groups of four. Firstly, each team will play the three sides in their group. Then, the final round of fixtures will see each side play the team who finished in the same position of the other group. Ireland are in Group A with England, Wales, and Georgia.
Previously, Ireland came out winners against Wales in the 6 Nations. In a 24-14 victory, Andy Farrell’s team produced a dominant performance. This is something they hope to replicate when the sides play the Autumn Nations Cup opener in November.
Selection Headache for Farrell
Before the Autumn Nations Cup gets underway, Ireland have two 6 Nations games to play. On the weekend of the 24/25th October, they host Italy in Dublin. Next, they travel to France for the final round. Ireland are still in the hunt for the trophy. However, they will need a huge victory over Italy and a win in Paris.
Since Ireland’s Twickenham defeat to England, club rugby has returned and Farrell has had time to watch plenty of players. It will be interesting to see how his selections change since lockdown began.
With the 6 Nations squad already confirmed and facing two big games. The Autumn Nations cup could be a chance for Farrell to test out new players.
Players who have not featured prominently in the 6 Nations so far could be compensated come November. For example, Ultan Dillane and Tom O’Toole could get some much needed minutes at International level.
Having struggled with injury, Tadhg Furlong could be rested in place of Andrew Porter. Otherwise, young Tom O’Toole from Ulster could make a debut.
On the other side, Dave Kilcoyne could replace Cian Healy. Impressively, Healy is just two caps shy of a century for Ireland. If he doesn’t reach the mark in the remaining 6 Nations games, he will almost definitely do so in the Autumn Nations Cup.
Between them, Ronan Kelleher has impressed for Leinster and will get a chance to compete with Rob Herring.
Iain Henderson and James Ryan are unlikely to be displaced as the first choice locks. But, for the sake of rotation, Ultan Dillane and Devin Toner could partner each other.
In the back row, Farrell has a chance to find the best trio in a competitive squad. Specifically, Caelan Doris and CJ Stander can both operate as number eight or flanker. Farrell will have to decide how to deploy these troops most effectively. Meanwhile, Van Der Flier, Max Deegan, Peter O’Mahoney are fighting for a place in the first fifteen.
In the half-backs, the scrum-half battle will be intense in the Autumn Nations. Murray remains the first choice 9. However, John Cooney and, to a lesser extent, Luke Mcgrath are breathing down his neck. But, with less on the line Farrell could draft in Connacht’s Kieran Marmion for another crack at the jersey.
When called upon previously Marmion has done his selection justice. In spite of this, Farrell opted against taking him to the World Cup and injury meant he didn’t make the 6 Nations squad either. Now, a return to form could give him a chance to prove the head coach wrong.
Elsewhere, Leinster’s Jamison Gibson-Park is eligible for selection and could see good form with his club rewarded with an International debut.
At 10, the ever-present Johnny Sexton could be afforded some time off in November. At 35, the 2018 Player of the Year will be conflicted over saving himself or competing to start for the Lions next year. If Farrell opts for rotation, Sexton’s deputy Ross Byrne will have a chance to come of age. Ulster’s Billy Burns could even make a debut. Jack Carty of Connacht has also been absent from the international set up for a while. Perhaps November could see his own redemption.
In midfield, the headache lies in only being able to choose two of Bundee Aki, Robbie Henshaw, Garry Ringrose, and Chris Farrell. Henshaw’s versatility could be his worst enemy here as his ability to cover 15 makes him a valuable option off the bench. In the case of an injury, Stuart McCloskey is a worthy addition.
Following Rob Kearney’s retirement, the green 15 is ready for a new owner. Jordan Larmour is certainly the preferred option. But, Andrew Conway is more than capable of playing there and could be given a chance to claim the jersey. Yet, November could also see the return of Will Addison. The Ulster man has missed a lot of action through injury. He could be in the team if he finds fitness in the meantime.
On the wings, Earls, Stockdale, Conway, and Dave Kearney will have new competition. Leinster’s James Lowe qualifies for Ireland in November and he is more than worthy of getting a chance. Over the four games, Ireland have to play, expect to see a rotation of these wingers.
In fact, Ireland’s game against England is the week following the opener. With revenge on the mind, Farrell could save some of his big guns for round 2. Therefore, the Autumn Nations Cup opener against Wales will bring an exciting team selection.
Autumn Nations Cup: Ireland vs Wales, Friday 13th November, 7pm. (Aviva Stadium).
Round One will take place from 13 November to 15 November with fans enjoying rugby from Friday night until Sunday afternoon 😊 pic.twitter.com/sFIP7rxSfF
— Autumn Nations Cup (@autumnnations) September 10, 2020