Autumn Nations Series preview: Team news and key talking points

Johnny Sexton 20/3/2021
A bumper weekend of international rugby awaits as all six Guinness Six Nations teams take centre stage for the second week of Autumn Nations Series fixtures.

A bumper weekend of international rugby awaits as all six Guinness Six Nations teams take centre stage for the second week of Autumn Nations Series fixtures.

Scotland and Wales made their autumn bows last weekend but now England, Ireland, France and Italy enter the fray to take part in six blockbuster encounters over two days.

And ahead of this weekend’s action, here’s what we can expect from the Championship outfits and who they will be lining up against as northern hemisphere meets southern hemisphere.


Ireland launch their November fixtures on Saturday by welcoming Japan to Dublin in what is set to be a momentous occasion for Ireland skipper Johnny Sexton.

Sexton will lead the men in green out as he wins his 100th Test cap but the Brave Blossoms will be keen to spoil the party – and they have history of doing just that against Ireland.

Japan defeated Ireland at the 2019 Rugby World Cup but it was Andy Farrell’s men who came out on top the last time they met, winning 39-31 in a thrilling contest in the summer.

In addition to Sexton’s milestone, Tadhg Furlong will bring up his 50th Test appearance in a side that also includes the experience of Iain Henderson, Peter O’Mahony and Conor Murray.

Ireland: 15. Hugo Keenan, 14. Andrew Conway, 13. Garry Ringrose, 12. Bundee Aki, 11. James Lowe, 10. Johnny Sexton, 9. Jamison Gibson-Park; 1. Andrew Porter, 2. Ronan Kelleher, 3. Tadhg Furlong, 4. Tadhg Beirne, 5. James Ryan, 6. Caelan Doris, 7. Josh van der Flier, 8. Jack Conan

Replacements: 16. Dan Sheehan, 17. Cian Healy, 18. Finlay Bealham, 19. Iain Henderson, 20. Peter O’Mahony, 21. Conor Murray, 22. Joey Carbery, 23. Keith Earls

Japan: 15. Kotaro Matsushima, 14. Dylan Riley, 13. Tim Lafaele, 12. Ryoto Nakamura, 11. Siosaia Fifita, 10. Yu Tamura, 9. Yutaka Nagare; 1. Keita Inagaki, 2. Atushi Sakate, 3. Jiwon Gu, 4. Jack Cornelsen, 5. James Moore, 6. Ben Gunter, 7. Lappies Labuschagne, 8. Kazuki Himeno

Replacements: 16. Yusuke Niwai, 17. Craig Millar, 18. Asaeli Valu, 19. Yoshitaka Tokunaga, 20. Tevita Tatafu, 21. Naoto Saito, 22. Rikiya Matsuda, 23. Ryohei Yamanaka


A daunting test awaits Italy in the first game of the Kieran Crowley era as he faces the country of his birth and the current number one side in the world, New Zealand.

The All Blacks kicked off their European tour last weekend with an impressive victory over Wales in Cardiff and now have Crowley’s young team in their sights for Week Two.

As well as a new coach, there is a new captain for Italy as Michele Lamaro takes on the role from Luca Bigi, the young back-rower is a no-nonsense character who should lead by example.

There are also welcome returns to the side in the form of Matteo Minozzi and Renato Giammarioli, while Crowley has put his faith in the half-back pairing of Stephen Varney and Paolo Garbisi.

Italy: 15. Matteo Minozzi, 14. Federico Mori, 13. Juan Ignacio Brex, 12. Marco Zanon, 11. Montanna Ioane, 10. Paolo Garbisi, 9. Stephen Varney; 1. Danilo Fischetti, 2. Gianmarco Lucchesi, 3. Marco Riccioni, 4. Marco Fuser, 5. David Sisi, 6. Sebastian Negri, 7. Michele Lamaro (c), 8. Renato Giammarioli

Replacements: 16. Luca Bigi, 17. Ivan Nemer, 18. Pietro Ceccarelli, 19. Niccolò Cannone, 20. Federico Ruzza, 21. Abraham Steyn, 22. Callum Braley, 23. Carlo Canna

New Zealand: 15. Damian McKenzie, 14. Sevu Reece, 13. Braydon Ennor, 12. Quinn Tupaea, 11. George Bridge, 10. Richie Mo’unga, 9. Brad Weber; 1. George Bower, 2. Dane Coles, 3. Tyrel Lomax, 4. Tupou Vaa’i, 5. Josh Lord, 6. Luke Jacobson, 7. Sam Cane (c), 8. Hoskins Sotutu

Replacements: 16. Asafo Aumua, 17. Ethan de Groot, 18. Ofa Tuungafasi, 19. Sam Whitelock, 20. Shannon Frizell, 21. Finlay Christie, 22. David Havili, 23. Jordie Barrett


Fresh blood has been introduced to the England squad by Eddie Jones for the Autumn Nations Series in place of several names who contributed to their 2019 World Cup final run.

The Vunipola brothers and George Ford have dropped out while Marcus Smith, Adam Radwan and Alex Dombrandt are among the names to earn a call-up after their summer exploits.

This new-look England side welcomes Tonga first up, with the visitors making nine changes to the team that was defeated 60-14 by Scotland last weekend at BT Murrayfield.

And with Freddie Steward’s selection at full-back and Radwan getting the nod on the opposite wing to Jonny May, Twickenham could be in for a high-scoring treat on Saturday.

England: 15. Freddie Steward, 14. Adam Radwan, 13. Henry Slade, 12. Manu Tuilagi, 11. Jonny May, 10. Owen Farrell (c), 9. Ben Youngs, 1. Ellis Genge, 2. Jamie George, 3. Kyle Sinckler, 4. Maro Itoje, 5. Jonny Hill, 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Sam Underhill, 8. Tom Curry

Replacements: 16. Jamie Blamire, 17. Joe Marler, 18. Will Stuart, 19. Charlie Ewels, 20. Alex Dombrandt, 21. Alex Mitchell, 22. Marcus Smith, 23. George Furbank

Tonga: 15. Telusa Veainu, 14. Walter Fifita, 13. Malietoa Hingano, 12. Afusipa Taumoepeau, 11. Solomona Kata, 10. Kurt Morath, 9. Sonatane Takulua (c), 1. Sigfried Fisi’ihoi, 2. Paula Ngauamo, 3. Ben Tameifuna, 4. Halaleva Fifita, 5. Tanginoa Halaifonua, 6. Lopeti Timani, 7. Mateaki Kafatolu, 8. Sione Vailanu

Replacements: 16. Siua Maile, 17. Loni Uhila, 18. Ma’afu Fia, 19. Setofano Funaki, 20. Onehunga Havili, 21. Leon Fukofuka, 22. James Faiva, 23. Viliame Fine


Arguably the game of the weekend sees the reigning Guinness Six Nations champions lock horns with the Rugby World Cup champions in a mouth-watering battle in Cardiff.

A depleted Wales lost 54-16 to the All Blacks last weekend but Wayne Pivac is able to call on his England-based heavyweights, with the likes of Dan Biggar and Louis Rees-Zammit returning to the fold.

Alun Wyn Jones a doubt for 2022 Guinness Six Nations

Ellis Jenkins will also make his first appearance for Wales in three years, having produced a man-of-the-match display in his country’s 20-11 victory against the Boks in November 2018.

Jenkins suffered a serious knee injury in the final minute of that game and missed 26 months of action but the Cardiff flanker will make an emotional return for Wales on Saturday.

Wales: 15 Johnny McNicholl, 14 Louis Rees-Zammit, 13 Jonathan Davies (Capt), 12 Nick Tompkins, 11 Josh Adams, 10 Dan Biggar, 9 Tomos Williams; 1 Rhys Carré, 2 Ryan Elias, 3 Tomas Francis, 4 Will Rowlands, 5 Adam Beard, 6 Ellis Jenkins, 7 Taine Basham, 8 Aaron Wainwright

Replacements: 16 Bradley Roberts, 17 Wyn Jones, 18 WillGriff John, 19 Ben Carter, 20 Seb Davies, 21 Gareth Davies, 22 Gareth Anscombe, 23 Liam Williams

South Africa: 15 Damian Willemse, 14 Jesse Kriel, 13 Lukhanyo Am, 12 Damian de Allende, 11 Makazole Mapimpi, 10 Handré Pollard, 9 Herschel Jantjies; 1 Ox Nché, 2 Bongi Mbonambi, 3 Trevor Nyakane, 4 Eben Etzebeth, 5 Lood de Jager, 6 Siya Kolisi, 7 Kwagga Smith, 8 Duane Vermeulen

Replacements: 16 Malcolm Marx, 17 Steven Kitshoff, 18 Vincent Koch, 19 Franco Mostert, 20 Jasper Wiese, 21 Cobus Reinach, 22 Elton Jantjies, 23 Frans Steyn


All eyes will be on a fascinating France backline for their Autumn Nations Series opener when Fabien Galthie’s men welcome Argentina to Paris in Saturday’s final game.

Matthieu Jalibert and Romain Ntamack will start together for the first time, the former at fly-half and the latter outside him in the centres, with Antoine Dupont captaining from No.9.

Excitement is almost guaranteed with all three on the pitch at the same time while elsewhere there is also a debut for Toulouse lock Thibaud Flament.

Argentina famously beat France twice at their home World Cup in 2007 and France will keen to avoid a repeat as they look to build momentum ahead of hosting the tournament once more in 2023.

France: 15. Melvyn Jaminet, 14. Damian Penaud, 13. Gaël Fickou, 12. Romain Ntamack, 11. Gabin Villière, 10. Matthieu Jalibert, 9. Antoine Dupont (c), 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Julien Marchand, 3. Mohamed Haouas, 4. Thibaud Flament, 5. Paul Willemse, 6. François Cros, 7. Cameron Woki, 8. Anthony Jelonch

Replacements: 16. Peato Mauvaka, 17. Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18. Demba Bamba, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Sekou Macalou, 21. Grégory Alldritt, 22. Maxime Lucu, 23. Jonathan Danty.

Argentina: 15. Emiliano Boffelli, 14. Bautista Delguy, 13. Matias Moroni, 12. Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11. Mateo Carreras, 10. Santiago Carreras, 9. Tomas Cubelli, 1. Thomas Gallo, 2. Julian Montoya (c), 3. Francisco Gomez Kodela, 4. Guido Petti, 5. Tomas Lavanini, 6. Pablo Matera, 7. Marcos Kremer, 8. Facundo Isa

Replacements: 16. Facundo Bosch, 17. Rodrigo Martinez, 18. Santiago Medrano, 19. Lucas Paulos, 20. Juan Martin Gonzalez, 21. Gonzalo Bertranou, 22. Nicolas Sanchez, 23. Lucio Cinti


Scotland got their Autumn Nations Series campaign up and running in style last weekend, running in ten tries as they defeated Tonga 60-14 at BT Murrayfield, but they face a tougher test against Australia on Sunday.

Gregor Townsend makes just one, injury-enforced change to the starting XV from his side’s historic Championship win in Paris earlier this year, as loosehead prop Pierre Schoeman wins his second cap in place of Rory Sutherland.

It means Scotland’s seven other British & Irish Lions not named Sutherland are in the line-up from the off, with tighthead Zander Fagerson and flanker Hamish Watson the two representatives in the pack.

Ali Price and Finn Russell re-form their potent half-back partnership, Chris Harris is in the centres and Duhan van der Merwe and skipper Stuart Hogg are two-thirds of the back-three.

Scotland: 15. Stuart Hogg (Captain); 14. Darcy Graham, 13. Chris Harris, 12. Sam Johnson, 11. Duhan van der Merwe, 10. Finn Russell, 9. Ali Price; 1. Pierre Schoeman, 2. George Turner, 3. Zander Fagerson, 4. Sam Skinner, 5. Grant Gilchrist, 6. Jamie Ritchie, 7. Hamish Watson, 8. Matt Fagerson

Replacements: 16. Ewan Ashman, 17. Jamie Bhatti, 18. Oli Kebble, 19. Jamie Hodgson, 20. Josh Bayliss, 21. George Horne, 22. Adam Hastings, 23. Kyle Steyn

Australia: 15. Andrew Kellaway, 14. Tom Wright, 13. Len Ikitau, 12. Hunter Paisami, 11. Jordan Petaia, 10. James O’Connor, 9. Nic White; 1. James Slipper, 2. Folau Fainga’a, 3. Allan Alaalatoa, 4. Rory Arnold, 5. Izack Rodda, 6. Rob Leota, 7. Michael Hooper (c), 8. Rob Valetini

Replacements: 16. Connal McInerney, 17. Angus Bell, 18. Taniela Tupou, 19. Will Skelton, 20. Pete Samu, 21. Tate McDermott, 22. Kurtley Beale, 23. Izaia Perese