Scotland’s Six Nations and Autumn Nations Preview
After the conclusion of the Six Nations was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, Scotland’s international schedule in November is more hectic than ever. Steven Brown previews all the upcoming action.
Scotland are set to kick-off their annual series of November internationals with… a Six Nations match? While it’s highly unusual, the Scotland rugby team will not only participate in a warm-up game against Georgia and in the inaugural Autumn Nations Cup, but will also complete their 2020 Six Nations campaign, playing away to Wales in their final match.
Back in March, the coronavirus pandemic halted proceedings midway through the fourth round, with the fifth round being completely unplayable. In this year’s competition, Scotland have faced defeat at the hands of both England and Ireland, but recorded two solid wins against France and Italy. With the championship being undecided upon its postponement, is there any chance of Scotland winning the whole thing?
To put it simply, it’s unrealistic – but not impossible. Scotland currently sit third in the Six Nations standings with 10 points on the board. To make a break for the title, they would need to clinch a bonus-point win against Wales at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff. While this is a tall order in itself, they would also need other results to go their way. Ireland would have to lose to Italy and draw with France, while England would also need to lose to Italy – for context, England have never lost to Italy. That being said, never say never… right?
After the Six Nations draws to a long-awaited close, Scotland will march on towards the debut of the Autumn Nations Cup. The competition was introduced by the various rugby unions across Europe to be able to support each other through the financial burdens that the pandemic has brought to the sport. The Six Nations will be in attendance, while Georgia and Fiji are also set to compete. Scotland are due to face off against Italy, France and Fiji in their group, before facing whichever opponent finished in their position in the other group to finalise places in the overall tournament.
The Autumn Nations Cup does not only provide a new venture in terms of international rugby, but live broadcasting, as Amazon Prime have acquired the rights to stream various matches for the first time. Prime have become a serious contender in the world of sports broadcasting, and through their coverage of various other sports, they have shown themselves to be of similar quality to that of Sky and BT in their broadcasting. This will further alleviate the financial stresses caused by the pandemic. For those without Prime, matches will also be broadcast across the BBC and ITV.
Away from the tournament itself, Gregor Townsend’s side are without the slew of injuries that left them depleted during the start of this year’s Six Nations in February. The squad features three uncapped players in Glasgow Warriors prop Oli Kebble, Edinburgh winger Duhan van der Merew and Harlequins scrum-half Scott Steele, all of whom will be hoping to make their international debut in the coming weeks.
Ritchie Gray makes his return to Townsend’s 23-man forward pack, after missing out on selection ahead of the Six Nations. Rob Harley also makes his return alongside Blair Cowan, who won his last cap for Scotland back in 2016. Scarlets’ Blade Thompson has also made a return to the squad, after making his last international squad appearance in the 2019 Rugby World Cup. There are also returns for James Lang and Nick Grigg amongst the 17 backs in this squad, thought the most notable return to Townsend’s Scotland is Racing 92’s Finn Russell. Russell is making his first return to the squad since the World Cup, with his playmaking abilities sorely missed in the early Six Nations matches.
Russell was one of four Scots to make an appearance in Saturday’s Champions Cup final, as his Racing 92 side faced off against an Exeter team that boasted Stuart Hogg, Jonny Gray and Sam Skinner. Despite a very closely-run contest between the two, Exeter battled hard for their victory, playing through the final spells of the game with 14 men.
This is a Scotland team that has shown plenty of promise in recent tournaments but have often had themselves to blame for their problems. Can the likes of Hogg, Gray and Skinner project the success of their Champions Cup campaign onto their international fixtures? Only time will tell but with Scotland having a very exciting run of matches to play in the next six weeks, should things go right, the fans at home will have something to celebrate as Scotland’s 2020 draws to a close.