Everything you need to know about the Autumn Nations Series
For the first time since Rugby World Cup 2019, the best teams from each of the two hemispheres collide in a full-on month of rugby, which will involve 20 matches spanning six match-days in October and November.
The packed Autumn Nations Series schedule kicked off at Murrayfield on 30 October when Scotland took on Tonga, while later on the same day, Cardiff played host to Wales and New Zealand, as north and south went head-to-head.
Why we love rugby, reason #94...✍🏼 #Respect #AutumnNationsSeries pic.twitter.com/KQnoKXhSvC— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 9, 2021
What is the Autumn Nations Series?
The Autumn Nations Series is not a standalone tournament like last year’s Autumn Nations Cup, but the collective term for the international matches being hosted by the Six Nations unions from 30 October through to 20 November.
Who is playing?
All of the world’s highest-ranked teams are in action plus Fiji, Georgia, Italy, Tonga and Uruguay.
Other top 20 teams such as Romania, Portugal and Spain are focused on Rugby World Cup 2023 qualifiers in the Rugby Europe Championship and have other important tests outside of that competition.
The same goes for USA, who travelled across the pond to the United Kingdom in the July international window for tests against England and Wales, and have only just played Uruguay in the Americas 1 play-off series for Rugby World Cup 2023.
Samoa were due to take part but have had to withdraw from fixtures against Georgia, Spain and the Barbarians next month due to COVID-19 travel restrictions. A European-based Samoa XV will, however, take on the Baa-Baas at Twickenham on 27 November.
Where are the matches being played?
All of the northern hemisphere’s iconic venues will be used to host the thrilling matches in October/November.
In addition to the world-famous capital cities of London (Twickenham), Edinburgh (Murrayfield), Cardiff (Wales), Dublin (Aviva Stadium), Paris (Stade de France) and Rome (Stadio Olimpico), games will be played in Treviso and Parma in Italy and Bordeaux in France.
The futuristic Stade de Bordeaux will host five matches at Rugby World Cup 2023.
Wait till the end... 💙🎶— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 10, 2021
🎥: @Federugby #AutumnNationsSeries pic.twitter.com/MQlrdPX4VS
Where can I watch the matches?
All the action will be brought straight to you thanks to blanket television coverage.
Amazon Prime Video has secured the rights for 17 of the 20 matches – all of those outside of Dublin – and will provide both an English and Welsh language option for all of Wales’ games.
Ireland's three Autumn Nations Series matches will be shown on RTE in the Republic of Ireland and on Channel 4 in the UK and Northern Ireland.
Meanwhile, talkSPORT has acquired the radio rights for the Autumn Nations Series.
Which games should be on your must-watch list?
With old rivalries to settle and new ones to form, each and every one of the 20 fixtures promise to be edge-of-your-seat showdowns in their own right.
As always, the world-class All Blacks will be the ones to watch but Australia, who finished second to them in the Rugby Championship, are resurgent at the moment, and a good European tour will only increase the feel-good factor brought about by five consecutive wins under Dave Rennie.
For England, there is an opportunity to avenge their Rugby World Cup 2019 final defeat to South Africa when they take on the Springboks at Twickenham on 20 November.
And by taking on Japan, two weeks apart on 6 and 20 November, Ireland and Scotland have a chance to move on from their painful pool losses to the Brave Blossoms.
In addition to healing the scars from past campaigns, early psychological blows can be struck in the Autumn Nations Series ahead of RWC 2023 as five of the upcoming matches will be re-enacted at the tournament in France.
Wales and Australia face each other as well as fellow Pool C opponents Fiji, while Italy will see first-hand the improvement shown by Americas 1 qualifier Uruguay, their opponents in Nice on 20 September, 2023.
Last but definitely not least, France’s meeting with New Zealand, the final match of the Autumn Nations Series on 20 November, should be an epic dress rehearsal for when the teams meet in the opening fixture of RWC 2023.
What has happened so far?
Scotland kicked off the Autumn Nations Series against Tonga at Murrayfield on 30 October, and it took winger Rufus McLean less than seven minutes to mark his international debut with a try.
McLean notched a second on the quarter-hour while his fellow winger Kyle Steyn touched down four times as Scotland ran in 10 tries during a 60-14 win. Tonga’s sole reply came through David Lolohea, while James Faiva added three penalties.
Later in the day, Beauden Barrett marked his 100th test appearance for New Zealand with a brace of tries as the All Blacks beat Wales 54-16 in Cardiff.
Barrett grabbed his first try in the fourth minute and the visitors built a 28-9 lead with less than 25 minutes remaining at the Principality Stadium.
Johnny Williams briefly gave the hosts hope in the 61st minute when he scored Wales’ sole try to help cut the deficit to 12 points. But the All Blacks ran in four tries in the final 17 minutes to wrap up a comprehensive victory.
Johnny Sexton celebrated his 100th Ireland cap by scoring a try and kicking 11 points in Ireland’s 60-5 defeat of Japan at the Aviva Stadium. Winger Andrew Conway helped himself to a hat-trick in Dublin as the hosts ran in nine tries.
A much-changed All Blacks side then broke the records for number of test tries and points in a calendar year as they beat Italy 47-9 in Rome.
Sevu Reece’s 63rd-minute try was the 93rd New Zealand had scored in 2021, while the first of Asafo Aumua’s double took them past the previous best points haul in a year of 658, recorded by South Africa in 2007.
Not to be outdone by either Ireland or the All Blacks, England ran in 11 tries to beat Tonga 69-3 at Twickenham. Jamie George, Jonny May and Ben Youngs each scored twice, while Marcus Smith capped a fine cameo with 15 points.
World champions South Africa were the visitors to Cardiff on the second weekend of the Autumn Nations Series and Malcolm Marx’s 73rd-minute try edged the Springboks to a first victory at the Principality Stadium since 2014. Wales led 15-9 and 18-15 thanks to Dan Biggar’s boot but were unable to hold on.
Awesome Ashman 🙌— Autumn Nations Series (@autumnnations) November 9, 2021
With a whopping 66% of the votes, @Scotlandteam debutant @EwanAshman2 wins the #AutumnNationsSeries Try of the Week for Round Two 🏴 pic.twitter.com/aQwqO5YZ1f
Argentina scored the opening try of the match against France in Paris, through Tomas Cubelli, but Les Bleus stormed back to win as Thibaud Flament and Peato Mauvaka both crossed the whitewash in the second half.
Melvyn Jaminet added 19 points from the kicking tee, which ensured that Mateo Carreras’ late try for Los Pumas was nothing more than consolation.
In the final match of the round, at Murrayfield on Sunday, Hamish Watson’s 22nd-minute try gave Scotland a 7-3 lead against Australia at the interval.
The Wallabies fought back in the second half and led after Rob Leota crossed the whitewash. But Ewan Ashman’s athletic finish and a 69th-minute Finn Russell penalty ultimately gave Scotland a 15-13 win, their third victory in a row against Australia.
Stuart Hogg scored twice against South Africa to draw level with Ian Smith and Tony Stanger as Scotland’s joint-highest men’s try-scorer but it wasn’t enough to prevent defeat to the world champions.
The Springboks reclaimed top spot in the World Rugby Men’s Rankings powered by Capgemini as a Makazole Mapimpi brace helped his side to a 30-15 win at Murrayfield.
In Treviso, Argentina ran in five tries from as many scorers to secure a 37-16 win against Italy.
Arguably the result of the weekend came in Dublin on Saturday afternoon, when tries from James Lowe, Ronan Kelleher and Caelan Doris secured Ireland a 29-20 victory against the All Blacks.
Codie Taylor and Will Jordan crossed the whitewash for New Zealand but could not prevent their side slipping to a third defeat in five matches against Ireland.
The final match on Saturday came at Twickenham where tries from Freddie Steward and Jamie Blamire earned hosts England an eighth successive win against Australia.
On Sunday, Damian Penaud and Peato Mauvaka both scored two of France’s six tries as Les Bleus secured a 41-15 defeat of Georgia in Bordeaux.
The final match of the weekend pitched Fiji against Wales in Cardiff, and the visitors were leading 13-7 when an Eroni Sau red card tipped the balance in the hosts’ favour.
Fiji coped admirably, though, and took a 23-14 lead when Waisea Nayacalevu scored his second try of the match. But Wales crossed the whitewash four times in the final quarter to wrap up a 38-23 win.
What impact will there be on the World Rugby Men’s Rankings?
With so many matches between teams in close proximity to one another in the rankings, there are bound to be changes to the world rugby pecking order.
Following round one, for instance, we saw a change at the top when New Zealand beat Wales. The All Blacks' subsequent win against Italy on 6 November meant they retained the number one spot, even though world champions South Africa also won in Cardiff.
South Africa and Australia have identical opponents in England, Scotland and Wales and plenty of rating points remain on the line, so expect lots of movement at the top end of the rankings and below over the next fortnight.
Any major player milestones looming?
Alun Wyn Jones remains one cap away from becoming the first player to reach 150 caps for his country after he suffered an injury against New Zealand. The second-row legend currently has 149 caps for Wales with an additional 13 caps earned for the British and Irish Lions.
Not long after Owen Farrell reached three figures with his Lions appearance against Japan, his old fly-half adversary Beauden Barrett joined him in the ‘centurions’ club’. Barrett, 30, earned his 100th cap for the All Blacks against Wales at the end of October.
Conor Murray and Jonathan Davies could become the latest test centurions, with both players on 99 appearances heading into round three.
Read more: Three things we learned from this weekend’s rugby internationals >>