A First Stepping-stone
The announcement of the Elite Squad to represent England in the Quilter Internationals this November marks the next staging post on the long journey to the 2021 World Cup.
The 28 players listed will all be delighted and relieved to see their names on the board, not least the seven debutants. But this selection must remain a distant version of the World Cup squad three years hence. Several names are missing through injury and non-availability, Amber Reed, Amy Cokayne, Sarah Bern and Lagi Tuima among them. These include people who most fans would reckon certain starters for the Big One.
Then there are the players contracted to the 7s programme that will conclude, all being well, at the end of the Olympics one year earlier. Names like Emily Scarratt, Mo Hunt, Alex Matthews, Ellie Kildunne, Meg Jones and Jess Breach are sure to be thrown into the hat for 2021.
At last Katy Daley-Mclean can look forward to gaining her 100th cap after a wait that goes back to last season. This is a monumental achievement. We should spare a thought too for Amber Reed who sits on 49 caps, but whose injury prevents her from adding more for the time being.
The training weekend the Red Roses put in at Holywell Park Loughborough has told the management some revealing facts. Players who looked to be carving out a prosperous career have seen their chance disappear in favour of others with a blank sheet of success in front of them.
We must wonder why 28 names have been posted, not 30. That is the new maximum permitted under the World Cup regulations, and you might expect every country now to produce squads of 30 for all international series. Only then can selectors set their minds to establishing the most sensible split between forwards and backs, and the number of specialists in each position.
It won’t be at all easy for Simon Middleton and his colleagues to pick the three sides to meet the USA, Canada and Ireland, to assess their relative strengths. Each of the visitors will have many debutants on view, though Canada will present a far more familiar line-up than last year. All 28 Roses can expect to play at least twice, but some positions are more strongly represented than others. For example, the second row offers only Abbie Scott, Zoe Aldcroft and Cath O’Donnell, with Poppy Cleall as support. Full-back has only Sarah McKenna and Abby Dow; likewise scrum-half, with Leanne Riley and Claudia Macdonald. If 30 names had been posted, some of these tight corners might have been avoided.
The absence of Bern, Cokayne and Justine Lucas alongside the retirement of Rocky Clark has left a huge hole in the front row, hence the inclusion of new youngsters Ellie Mulhearn and Ellena Perry to accompany the already-capped Hannah Botterman.
There will certainly be moments in these Quilter games when we thank our lucky stars that we still have highly experienced operators like Daley-Mclean, Rachael Burford, Vicky Fleetwood, Marlie Packer, Lydia Thompson and the skipper Sarah Hunter – all World Cup winners – to keep the tanker pointing in the right direction in heavy seas.
The RFU has announced two further matches to be played by an England Women’s National Academy side, as the A team is now named. The extra bodies will be provided by players from the wider EPS squad, who will be eager to show their capabilities against the two New World visitors.
Abbie Scott (Harlequins)
Abby Dow (Wasps)
Carys Williams* (Lightning)
Cath O’Donnell (Lightning)
Claudia Macdonald* (Wasps)
Ellena Perry* (Saracens)
Ellie Mulhearn* (Bristol)
Hannah Botterman (Saracens)
Heather Kerr (DMP)
Jo Brown (Lightning)
Katy Daley-Mclean (Lightning)
Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Lark Davies (Valkyries)
Leanne Riley (Harlequins)
Lucy Attwood* (Bristol)
Lydia Thompson (Valkyries)
Marlie Packer (Saracens)
Poppy Cleall (Saracens)
Rachael Burford (Harlequins)
Sarah Beckett* (Firwood Waterloo)
Sarah Hunter (Lightning, Captain)
Sarah McKenna (Saracens)
Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins)
Tatyana Heard* (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens)
Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Zoe Harrison (Saracens)
9 November England v USA Allianz Park 19.45
18 November England v Canada Castle Park Doncaster 14.00
24 November England v Ireland Twickenham 17.40