The closer we get to the international season, the more the excitement rises but the uncertainties pile up.
The opening bout takes place on 24 October when Ireland host Italy in the Six Nations. From there a thicket of tests are squeezed in before Christmas, finishing on 20 December with two RWC qualifiers which involve the European challengers (Spain?), Ireland, Scotland and Italy — of course that still leaves the final European representative to be decided at a later date.
How many of these fixtures will see the light of day as scheduled? Organisers must have their fingers permanently crossed. If the word ‘quarantine’ appears in any of the host countries, then delays are inevitable.
Will the normal laws of rugby apply? If World Rugby introduces any adjustments in the cause of safety, then all the teams will have to have an equal chance of adapting to them. The ten Allianz Premier 15s clubs may not have had very long to get used to the RFU amendments, but they started on a level playing field.
Your England Team
Now it’s time to start sifting your England team. The 2020-21 contracts are still not known, but you can safely assume that most, if not all the current holders will retain them. Of the two long-term absentees through injury Lagi Tuima made a welcome debut appearance for Quins in Round One..
But Bryony Cleall had to moonlight in the commentary box at the Sarries-Worcester game. It’s been a long sad absence from the game for her.
Then there are a host of other players queuing up to join the professionals. Eight of them have represented their country over the last twelve months: Abby Dow, Amelia Harper, Detysha Harper, Heather Kerr, Rownita Marston, Harriet Millar-Mills, Ellena Perry and Mia Venner.
Four more were called up to training sessions at the start of the year: Emily Underwood, Millie Wood, Morwenna Talling and Rowena Burnfield (49 caps!).
And now we have an illustrious third group, the England Sevens players. Their sights are fixed firmly on the Tokyo Olympics, but some of England’s opponents would be more than happy to include any of them in their future line-ups. Alex Matthews, for one, looked as though she hadn’t been away from 15s at all; she gave Sarries a heap of worries on Saturday.
You and the official selectors have only three rounds of the Allianz to check the field. The safe cautious route would be to stick to the tried and trusted. Of the three games planned (Italy-France-France), the last round of the Six Nations presents the easiest challenge. Last time out the Red Roses put 55 points on the hapless Azzurre at Bedford. They were suffering injuries to important players which led to well-known figures playing out of position (Barattin at full-back, Stefan at scrum-half). But even at full strength it’s hard to imagine them lasting the pace.
The two clashes with France tell a different story. Quite apart from national pride, world rankings will loom large in English thoughts.
We will learn a lot about the selectors’ thought processes as the World Cup draws ever closer. They know the quality of their chosen squad, but how far will they go in introducing new blood to the group? In Pau Amelia Harper was sent on for her debut as the game reached boiling-point, so Simon Middleton is prepared to take calculated risks.
It would be nice to see a few less familiar faces given their chance, but where? – in Parma, in France (location not yet confirmed) or at Twickenham?
There is so much at stake for the players. The standard of play in the opening round of the Prem 15s was highly encouraging.
Three Red Roses have been nominated as the RPA Women’s Player of the Year, in association with the Telegraph Women’s Sport: Katy Daley-Mclean, Poppy Cleall and Zoe Aldcroft.