Updated: Nov 19, 2020
It's always brave to make predictions on a competition that's making it's debut, especially with the COVID - 19 induced circumstances we are currently living with. However, I think there are plenty of variables afoot and interesting patterns appearing for each national side. With the hype ever-intense ahead of this weekends fixtures, we thought we would provide you with our Autumn Nations Cup predictions... Let's get into it...
With each major competition that passes, there are more and more upsets happening to tier one nations. Whether it's Japan taking the next superpower to the sword, or Fiji getting their act together and pulling off a once-in-a-generation performance, upsets are always possible and happen when you least expect them to. There are a couple of fixtures that I believe could be subject to upset, the first between Fiji and France. The last time the two teams went to war, Fiji matched France's physicality and caused a huge upset away from home. With a highly-tuned, new look, young French side, many would consider this a fluke, but I think it could play further into the flying Fijian's hands. With as savvy an operator at the helms as Vern Cotter, I think the game will be won or lost at the set piece. If Fiji can match the huge French pack in the tight, the match is anyone's game in the backs. Ntamack though collected and calm under pressure and one of the standout stars of the Six Nations, is still brittle and subject to injury. France will have to shake the huge target off of his back in order to get their tactical game up and running.
Another potential upset could be just about anyone who plays Georgia. Although they put in a poor performance against a rejuvenated Scottish outfit earlier this Autumn, you cannot deny the presence of their pack. Although I think the English should have enough to match them here and Ireland have some heavy lumps in their forwards, it's entirely possible that Wales without the starting force of Thomas Francis, could really struggle against such a meaty scrum. Georgia should be straightforward to dispatch in the backs too and again I think the Irish and English with their free-scoring ability and cutting edge, should have way too much gas for this stalwart Georgian side. However, Wales' attack has been very poor with the only real highlights being a hardworking Nick Tompkins and the electrifying Josh Adams. Wales must NOT get bogged down playing Georgia's game and have to go in with confidence and a desire to play attacking Rugby; that way they can avoid the upset.
Scottish Rugby looked to be back to it's worst after a very poor World Cup outing which saw them lose handily to Ireland and in a barnstormer against the Japanese. However, since then, Scottish Rugby has ran beneath the radar with multiple strong performances against Wales, France and England, the match against England in particular being on a knifes-edge due to terrible conditions. If they can dispatch of France in a similar fashion, keep Fiji contained to tight, forward-driven Rugby and not get unstuck by Italy, that's it! It's a tall ask with the Scottish missing their two star players in Hastings and Russell, but let's not sleep on the might Weir! He does lack flair and he doesn't have the attacking bravery that Russell offers, but he's also had an underrated campaign at Worcester. He's put in key performance after key performance, used his centres well and is tactically one of the best in the Premiership currently operating. Is there enough time to implement his style of Rugby? Possibly not, but I have high expectations for this Scotland team and it's been too long since they've been in the running for silverware.
England Won't Change The Formula
The Joe & Sam Simmonds, Ben Spencer and Marcus Smith omissions, the continued employment of Ben Youngs in the first team, Furbank receiving chance after chance at 15, I don't think this will change going into the Autumn Nations Cup. Although we might see glimpses from Jack Willis, perhaps a final five minutes from Dan Robson and a couple cameos by Ollie Lawrence and Joe Marchant but that's about it. England do have a winning formula here but it smacks of 2018 once again... Remember when England went on a record-equalling winning streak and then followed it up with coming 5th at a Six Nations because Jones refused to pick players in form to add to the team? It does feel similar right? Now England are still the clear favourites for the title but they are in a tough group with a bruising Georgian team, a resurgent Irish outfit and a Wales team needing a massive tournament. I'm not suggesting to completely change the starting side or suddenly get rid of their kicking game, all I'm suggesting is meaningful game time for the likes of Willis, Robson, Lawrence and Marchant in order to start the bedding in and transition process ahead of the next World Cup.
Italy Finish With Worst Points Difference
It must be tough to be an Italian Rugby fan at the moment. Every nation is calling for your removal from the Six Nations, you're putting in terrible performances every weekend and Polledri is carrying an entire pack on his back. However, this is a very young, new look Italian side and one that has gone through a drastic transition of leadership on and off the pitch in the last twelve months. Unfortunately, I'd love to tell you that there are some bright spots in their game that they could rely on going into this tournament, however, I think they are in for a hellish list of fixtures. France will replicate their Six Nations performance against the side, Scotland should do better than what they did against the Azzurri last time out and this Fijian team just need to keep their heads focused and they should have way too much for this Italian side. Italy will finish dead last of their group with the lowest points difference of the competition.