The RFU has announced four matches for the Red Roses this autumn.
They offer the sort of opposition everyone would have hoped for, but other elements are frustratingly absent.
Canada, New Zealand and the USA are teams of the strength needed to provide a real challenge to English hopes. Two games against the Black Ferns represent the stiffest challenge any side could face.
The biggest disappointment is the absence of a trip abroad. The original hope had been to fly to New Zealand to get a taste of what the World Cup games will feel like. Of the current Red Roses no fewer than sixteen took part in the international series there in 2017: Bern, Cokayne, Cornborough, Fleetwood, Hunt, Hunter, Jones, Matthews, McKenna, Millar-Mills, Packer, Reed, Riley, Scarratt, Thompson and Ward.
That is a huge advantage, but this autumn series will take place in front of large enthusiastic English crowds, a very different experience from confronting a baying audience at Eden Park – where All Blacks and Black Ferns alike lose less often than Halley’s comet appears.
Simon Middleton and his staff have huge decisions to make. They have a large number of players anxious to catch their eye. Many positions are up for grabs, both positions of strength (back-row and wing) and of uncertainty (front-row and centre).
Meeting the Black Ferns first does the Red Roses no favours; they are the two games they will be most anxious to win. Surely Middleton will pick what he sees as his strongest 23; then comes the problem of choosing a second 23 on the back of that result.
The game placed last, against the USA, is where he can most profitably introduce less experienced players, but by then the die will be cast.
The RFU’s statement lists all the details yet to be finalised, venues, precise dates, timings. But it uses the term ‘broadcast’, not ‘live stream’, to describe its hoped-for media coverage.
It would be nice to think that the BBC would jump at the chance of covering all four matches on a main channel.
We can only hope.