England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland set for autumn Tests

Hezbollah supporters carry posters of Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah (R) and Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the southern Lebanese city of Nabatieh on November 8, 2017
Warren Gatland, Eddie Jones, Joe Schmidt and Gregor Townsend will take on the best of the southern hemisphere over the next four weeks
Autumn internationals
Coverage: Live BBC TV coverage of Wales & Scotland’s matches with live BBC Radio 5 live commentary and BBC Two highlights of England’s matches. Live text commentary of all Tests on BBC Sport website

Over four weeks, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland will take the measure of the southern hemisphere’s finest in the autumn internationals.

The action begins on Saturday with new Scotland coach Gregor Townsend overseeing his first game at Murrayfield, against Samoa.

Later in the day, England take on Argentina, Wales play Australia and Ireland entertain South Africa.

Scotland and Wales’ matches, including those against world champions New Zealand, will be live on BBC.

Highlights of England’s matches against the Pumas, Australia and Samoa will also be on BBC television soon after the match, with radio commentary of many games on BBC Radio 5 live and 5 live sports extra.

Two years and 20-odd Tests to go

The date that the world rugby’s elite want to ink in their diary, with the Rugby World Cup final less than two years away

The fixtures for 2019’s Rugby World Cup were announced on 2 November, focusing minds with less than two years and around 20 Tests to go before kick-off in Japan.

In the 2015 event, the southern hemisphere filled all four semi-final spots in England, proving an emphasis on individual skills and improvisation could triumph even in less favourable handling conditions.

However there are signs the northern hemisphere have closed the gap since then.

New Zealand, Australia and South Africa occupied the top three places in the world rankings immediately before the last tournament.

World rankings
1. New Zealand 93.83 points
2. England 90.14
3. Australia 87.28
4. Ireland 85.39
5. South Africa 85.03
6. Scotland 82.47
7. Wales 81.73
8. France 79.63

Now, with England second, Ireland fourth and Scotland sixth, it seems a more balanced picture.

The results on the pitch have been revealing too. Last November Ireland brought a record New Zealand run of victories to an end, Wales downed South Africa and Scotland came within a point of Australia.

For their part, England have won their last nine meetings with southern hemisphere opposition.

The next four weeks will provide another chance to see how the two halves of world rugby match up.

Unfinished business

Captains Kieran Read and Sam Warburton led their sides in a bruising three-Test series between the British and Irish Lions and New Zealand

It briefly seemed as if the biggest match of the autumn might be the very first.

When New Zealand and the British and Irish Lions could not be separated after three fierce Tests in the summer, the All Blacks’ Twickenham meeting with the Barbarians on 4 November was briefly flagged as a possible unofficial decider.

The idea was soon quashed with the unions unwilling to release their players for the fixture.

Yet the All Blacks remain the biggest draw in world rugby.

Autumn internationals
England Wales Scotland Ireland
11 Nov v Argentina v Australia v Samoa v South Africa
18 Nov v Australia v Georgia v New Zealand v Fiji
25 Nov v Samoa v New Zealand v Australia v Argentina
2 Dec v South Africa

Fresh from sweeping to a third successive Rugby Championship, they will play two Tests against France before meeting with Scotland on 18 November and Wales seven days later.

The resumption of hostilities between Wales and Lions boss Warren Gatland and New Zealand counterpart Steve Hansen will be especially intriguing.

Hansen said Gatland should quit coaching