First, the women’s tournament. This is a low-jeopardy 12-team affair. Eight of them will advance to the knockouts and England – on a remarkable run of 18 successive wins – have every reason to be optimistic.
The club game will grind on, with its ever decreasing jeopardy and ever increasing confusing structures and demands on players (welfare, particularly pertaining to brain injuries, will remain an uncomfortable topic bubbling away), but the men’s game will be all about internationals.
The third of four years in the men’s World Cup cycle is always the point at which all roads lead to the showpiece event. This time it’s in France, who are building a magnificent young side, which creates hope that the winner could be from the Northern Hemisphere for just the second time.
While the Six Nations campaign looks as open as ever – let’s really hope there are fans in the ground and this does not become the third campaign wrecked by the pandemic – with five genuine title contenders. It is about time this France side won it, but Ireland are a growing force, England showed something in the autumn, while champions Wales and perennial pretenders Scotland remain strong.
In the English game, one fixture stands out above all else: a meeting with the All Blacks on November 19, the third of four games in a super-charged autumn series that also sees them play Argentina, Japan, and the World champions South Africa.
England vs New Zealand has retained a peculiar novelty in a saturated sport. They have not met since that unforgettable World Cup semi-final in Yokohama, when England faced down the Haka then put in the performance of their lives. Before that, they had met just once since 2014, in another excellent autumn encounter in 2018.
So that game remains something special, unlike England’s summer tour of Australia, which will see Eddie Jones’s side play three games against his homeland, taking the tally of meetings in his six-year tenure to 11. Jones has won the first eight; if he makes it 11 from 11, they should be in a pretty good place to take on the All Blacks.