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Japan and Fiji set to join Six Nations sides for autumn tournament

 

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In demand: Iain Henderson will be needed by both Ulster and Ireland

In demand: Iain Henderson will be needed by both Ulster and Ireland

�INPHO/Dan Sheridan

In demand: Iain Henderson will be needed by both Ulster and Ireland

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to upend the traditional rugby schedule, confirmation is expected soon that Fiji and Japan will join the usual Six Nations sides for a one-off, eight-team tournament this autumn.

Ireland had planned to welcome South Africa, Australia and Japan to Dublin in November but travel restrictions and the preeminence in the southern hemisphere of the Rugby Championship have rendered those fixtures an impossibility.

With the 2020 Six Nations championship postponed in March still to conclude, instead their proposed slate upon rugby's restart is set to feature six Tests in seven weeks including trips to Paris and London as the game's decision makers look to salvage whatever they can from diminished television, sponsorship and gate receipts.

With Italy due at the Aviva on October 24, the game against the Azzurri and a Halloween visit to the Stade de France will round out this year's Six Nations.

A one-week break will follow before the start of an extraordinary competition where Ireland are expected to host Wales and Fiji with a visit to face England in Twickenham sandwiched in between.

Those fixtures come courtesy of a draw that has pitted France, Scotland, Japan and Italy on the other side of the ledger, with finishing positions in each four-team pool determining who each nation will face in a final Test held on the first weekend of December.

While Europe's top stars have been out of action for five months now, the games will come unprecedentedly thick and fast once the sport resumes, one season blending into the next and all concluding with next summer's British and Irish Lions tour to South Africa.

Ulster's Test stars like Iain Henderson, Jacob Stockdale and John Cooney will be expected to line out for their province in the PRO14 and Europe from the clash with Connacht on August 23 onwards before quickly launching into the international arena.

So condensed is the proposed fixture list that the start of the 2020/21 Champions Cup pool stages have been pencilled in for just one week after the close of the extended autumn window.

Belfast Telegraph