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Busy autumn schedule is an exciting chance for Farrell's Ireland to progress

A new eight-team competition is set to see Ireland face Wales, England and Fiji.

Updated Jul 28th 2020, 12:00 PM

ANDY FARRELL AND his coaching team endured frustration earlier this year when their final two Six Nations games against Italy and France were postponed, cutting short their first campaign in charge of Ireland.

That their most recent outing was a defeat to England at Twickenham will have made the months since all the longer.

But Ireland are now set for a very busy autumn schedule that should allow Farrell and his peers in Test rugby to get the kind of access to their players that most of them dream about.

robbie-henshaw-and-bundee-aki-celebrate-after-the-game Ireland's Robbie Henshaw and Bundee Aki. Source: Gary Carr/INPHO

World Rugby confirmed last week that its executive committee has recommended an extended autumn calendar from 24 October through to 5 December that will allow the remaining 2020 Six Nations games to be finished and then a new eight-team international competition to take place in the Northern Hemisphere over four weeks.

While a World Rugby Council meeting on Thursday still has to copper fasten the revised calendar, amidst challenges from the French and English clubs, this new agenda would mean a very exciting couple of months for Farrell and co.

Ireland are set to face Wales, England, and Fiji in their group in the new one-off tournament, with France, Scotland, Japan and Italy in the other group. Three group-stage rounds are set to be followed by play-offs, with 1st v 1st, 2nd v 2nd, 3rd v 3rd, and 4th v 4th.

So Ireland could be set for an autumn schedule that looks like this:

24 October: Ireland v Italy, Aviva Stadium

31 October: France v Ireland, Stade de France

7 November: Rest weekend

14 November: Ireland v Wales, Aviva Stadium

21 November: England v Ireland, Twickenham

28 November: Ireland v Fiji, Aviva Stadium

5 December: Play-off fixture

While all of this is yet to be officially confirmed, it’s a thrilling prospect for Ireland. We simply don’t know yet if supporters will be able to attend these Tests in person – governments will decide that – but it’s certainly a decent schedule for following on TV.

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Ireland are still in the hunt for the 2020 Six Nations title, of course. A bonus-point win over Italy first up in their ‘game in hand’ would leave them sitting on top of the table coming into what would be a genuine Super Saturday on 31 October with Farrell’s side, England, France and Scotland still in the mix.

andy-farrell Farrell will be keen to get Ireland's development rolling again. Source: Dan Sheridan/INPHO

A rest weekend thereafter is handy but it seems obvious that Farrell and other international coaches will need to bring an element of rotation into this autumn.

With 2019/20 season club fixtures still to be finished off, the Champions Cup final is due to take place the weekend before the Italy clash. It could be that Leinster are involved in that European decider.

The weekend after Ireland’s play-off fixture in the possible new eight-team competition, the 2020/21 season of the Champions Cup is set to get underway for the four provinces. So this season is going to be a real test for player welfare, as we always knew it would be.

Irish rugby has prided itself on leading the way on that front so it would be a surprise if Farrell ended up sending his leading players out to start all six Test in the seven-week window. Managing resources and selecting the right people for the right games will be key.

Tactically, it’s a very exciting window for Farrell and his coaching team of Mike Catt, Simon Easterby, Richie Murphy, and John Fogarty.

It was clear earlier this year that Ireland are keen to develop the attacking side of their game as they began shifting towards a 1-3-2-2 attacking shape and aimed to put width on the ball. Seven weeks together in autumn should help the development in that area and many others.

While it would have been nice to get reigning world champions South Africa in Dublin, as was originally scheduled for November, there is still plenty of intrigue in the proposed new eight-team competition in the north. Meanwhile, the Boks, Wallabies, All Blacks, and Argentina will be busy with a six-week Rugby Championship in New Zealand. 

jale-vatubua-and-devin-toner Fiji last visited Dublin in 2017. Source: Bryan Keane/INPHO

Fiji last visited Dublin in November 2017 – when they gave Joe Schmidt’s rotated team a fright but came up short on a 23-20 scoreline – and their attacking skillsets make it an appealing fixture.

There is a chance for revenge over England in Twickenham in there – no doubt several players will already be excited about that possible fixture – and also the potential reward of a trophy at the end of the new competition.

First things first, Farrell’s men will be focusing on finishing off the 2020 Six Nations as strongly as possible.

Getting rugby back in Ireland next month with the Pro14 inter-pros is very exciting and this autumn promises plenty of thrills too.

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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