Chris Paterson welcomes competitive fixtures this Autumn
On the announcement of a new competition for Scotland this Autumn, Former Scotland Internationalist Chris Paterson, shares his opinions on the season and fixtures ahead that await the Scotland team.
The Autumn Nations Cup - a completely new and innovative tournament taking place over four weekends between November and December. The Autumn Nations Cup 2020 will be a unique eight-team competition, involving the Six Nations as well as the rugby unions of Georgia and Fiji.
Scotland are drawn in Pool B compromising of France, Italy and Fiji.
Trophy up for grabs
Any time a player is given the opportunity to represent their country is special and the Autumn Tests are no different.
They are fixtures that all players look forward to. New players are often given the opportunity to prove themselves in an international jersey for the first time, more experienced players have to show continual improvement at the start of a new international season and there is the opportunity to play against world-class teams.
Traditionally the only time we would face some of these teams in a competitive match was during Rugby World Cups. The Autumn Nations Cup now creates something new, adding a new level of pressure with tournament points available. This window is now more competitive and there is the chance to win a trophy.
I think that new level of pressure and competition is great and it means the players will have to be ready to deliver from the opening match away from home against Italy.
Welcoming a mix of opposition
There’s a great mix of opposition for Scotland – with the welcome of France, Italy and Fiji into the group.
Italy away from home first will be a great test. Although they’ve dropped to 14th in the world rankings we know from the regular fixture in the Guinness Six Nations just how hard it is to win on the road. Matching and overpowering their passion and physicality is key and quite often the result is determined by fine margins.
France will always challenge you physically but Scotland do have a strong record at home against them in recent times including winning our last the last fixture, 28-17 back in March. The French were unbeaten in the Championship going into that game but the tempo and accuracy Scotland played with laid the platform for the win.
As France build their team and their culture ahead of their ‘home’ Rugby World Cup in 2023 they will take every opportunity to evolve and execute and will be a threat to every opposition in the Autumn Nations Cup. They continue to unearth wonderful players and it is very difficult to select only one to watch from France but Antoine DuPont the French number 9 is a world star and lights up the field when he plays.
The final pool game is an inspiring fixture. Fiji and the brand of rugby they play, coached by Vern Cotter, will relish the opportunity to play on the open expanse of the BT Murrayfield turf but so do Scotland!
I think this fixture has the potential to light up the tournament. Fiji can select from some of the world’s best individual players including Bristol’s Semi Radradra, Edinburgh’s Bill Mata and Glasgow’s Leone Nakarawa but they must play with a team discipline to be successful.
This game is an example of having the opportunity to play against a top team in a competitive fixture rather than in a friendly. Our last ‘competitive’ fixture was the do or die final pool game in the 2003 Rugby World Cup in Sydney, that game was won in the final minute after an epic battle. This fixture is worth looking out for.
A season like no other
It’s been a disrupted season like no other but it’s great to get the season structure confirmed and to know when international rugby will be returning safely.
There’s going to be a combination of the postponed Guinness Six Nations before these fixtures so the players will be going into the Autumn Nations Cup having played international rugby in recent weeks. This is important for form, experience and continuity and for Scotland it may even be on the back of cementing a top three finish in the Guinness Six Nations.
Pulling recent experience together
The players are going to have to work really hard to be at the required level to play International rugby quickly. There are only three rounds of Guinness PRO 14 for home-based players and players playing in other leagues will have had varying amounts of game time. It’s a real opportunity to start the season with a bang, find your form quickly and in turn put pressure on the coaches to select based on the performance from only a few games from the new season. It’s a good opportunity for every player to lay down a marker in those limited games to be part of the first Autumn Nations Cup.
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