England Women will play three Tests this autumn in their final dress rehearsals before kicking off their Six Nations title defence in February.
Simon Middleton’s team travel to Clermont-Ferrand to take on France on November 9, before returning home to play Quilter Internationals against the same opposition at Exeter Chiefs’ Sandy Park and Italy at Bedford Blues’ Goldington Road.
While the Blues’ home ground is yet to host an women’s international, the Red Roses’ last outing at Sandy Park attracted a record 10,545 crowd who were treated to a dominant 55-0 Six Nations victory over Italy in March.
“Playing France at any time is always a real challenge, it’s one of the toughest places to go,” Middleton said.
“To then come back and play them on home soil at Exeter will be great – when we played there against Italy in the Six Nations it was probably the highlight of the tournament, with the exception of actually winning the competition.
“The way the crowd and the people of Exeter embraced the Red Roses left the biggest impression on all the players and the staff.
“If we get that again, it would be tremendous.”
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England, Italy and France comprised the Women’s Six Nations’ top three teams earlier this year, with Middleton’s team clinching the Grand Slam.
The Red Roses toppled France 41-26 in Doncaster, before going on to see off Italy 55-0 at the Chiefs’ home ground.
And this autumn’s schedule will give England the chance to both prepare for their title defence as well as showcasing women’s rugby to new corners of the country.
Nicky Ponsford, RFU Head of Women’s Performance, said: “Matches against two of our Six Nations opponents who we travel to play in 2020 will give a good indication of where we are as a group building on what we learnt in the summer.
“We’re delighted to be heading to Bedford and know the importance of taking the Red Roses to new audiences.
“Equally, Sandy Park is a first-class venue and we are really excited to work with Exeter Chiefs once again after the great experience both the players and fans had there last year.”
England’s last outing against France ended in a thrilling 20-18 victory for the Red Roses in July’s Super Series, with Emily Scarratt’s late penalty breaking French hearts.
And while Italy’s last game against England was that defeat at Sandy Park, the Italians will be buoyed by their strong Six Nations showing.
“France and England have been traditionally strong for a long time but Italy have progressed over the last few seasons,” Middleton added.
“They’re flamboyant, unpredictable and have lots of facets to their game and it’s always a challenge to play against them.”