Just one round of the Autumn Nations Cup is done and dusted and yet it looks as if there are only two teams left with a real chance of winning the tournament outright.
Strangely enough, the cancellation of France vs Fiji could mean that this weekend’s match between Ireland and England may well decide the victors of the tournament.
Injury concerns mar an impressive performance for Ireland.
Ireland were far superior to Wales in their opening Autumn Nations Cup, there’s no doubt about it. The 32-9 win over Wayne Pivac’s struggling side will have come as a great relief to Andy Farrell but beating England poses a far greater challenge.
Johnny Sexton and Robbie Henshaw have both been ruled out of Saturday’s do-or-die game at Twickenham, leaving either Ross Byrne or Billy Burns needing to step up to the plate big time.
Burns impressed with some deft kicks and nice passes in his first international cap after Sexton was withdrawn in the first half of the Wales match. However, he will know that facing the country of his birth will be a significantly tougher task.
Byrne has faced England wearing the number 10 jersey for Ireland before but will hope that Saturday’s match will go a lot differently as the men in green suffered a horrendous 42-point loss on that occasion.
Whoever starts at fly-half will need to have the game of their lives should they hope to come away with a win and seal a place in the final against what will probably be an under-strength French side…
Covid cancellation of France-Fiji could have massive implications.
The Autumn Nations Cup got off to a rocky start before a ball was even kicked when France’s game with Fiji was cancelled due to coronavirus cases in the Fijian camp.
Round 1 – ✅
— Autumn Nations Cup 🏉 (@autumnnations) November 15, 2020
France were then awarded a 28-0 bonus point win as a result. While a bonus-point victory for Fabien Galthie’s side was always likely, the walkover has potentially changed the outcome of the entire tournament.
The French had originally planned on taking a developmental team to Scotland as the French rugby federation had made a deal with the French league’s governing body to only use each player in three matches in the international window.
Galthie had already used his strongest squad in their previous matches against Wales and Ireland and had planned on using that squad in the game against Fiji.
However, with the Fiji game cancelled, France will now take their strongest side to Edinburgh to take on Scotland.
A full-strength France will be favourites against the Scots, meaning France’s second-string side will only have to beat Italy to seal their place in the final.
That leaves a developmental French team to take on either Ireland or England in the Autumn Nations Cup decider. I know who my money will be on.