Simon Middleton has announced a ‘wider’ selection for the England squad to face the Barbarians. After a gathering at Bisham it will probably be fined down to the regular size of 23. He will need to check on the fitness of all the players, especially those returning from injury and the two who are new at this level, Chloe Edwards and Clara Nielson.
Though injured, Marlie Packer and Cath O’Donnell will be in attendance.
The next stage on the road to the New Zealand World Cup in two years’ time has arrived, and it has huge novelty value. The first thing that strikes us is the names missing through injury and non-availability. No Abby Dow – we can assume she is preoccupied with other more pressing matters like passing exams.
The injuries are an upset. Unavailable at Twickenham will be Marlie Packer, Cath O’Donnell, Shaunagh Brown, Sarah Beckett, Vicky Fleetwood and Emily Scarratt – all are expected to be fit for the trip across the pond at the end of June. Amy Cokayne too has a shoulder injury we await to hear when she is likely to be fit again. More seriously, no fewer than three players will miss the Super Series as well, Jess Breach, Rachael Burford and Katy Daley-Mclean. They will be sorely missed. But the aim behind Middleton’s selection policy has always been to ensure depth of choice. Once again Zoe Harrison will have the chance to start at No 10, her first since the game against Ireland last November. And the conundrum of finding space for four wingers is solved with a snap of the fingers: no Breach, no Dow.
In the 6 Nations both Rosie Galligan and Poppy Leitch were called in to fill gaps in the side. This time as many as four uncontracted players are listed. Galligan reappears in place of O’Donnell; Carla Nielson (Bristol) stands in for Cokayne and Chloe Edwards (Quins) reinforces the front row. Amber Reed’s presence is no surprise; she has recovered from a lengthy injury and can put down a marker for a contract next year. The temporary absence of Scarratt (a blessing for the Baa-baas) reduces the pressure on places in the centre, but Reed will have to jostle with Heard, Williams and Tuima for the 12 and 13 shirts. She offers an option at No 10 as well. Williams may well find herself asked to deputise on the wing as she did last November against Canada.
Zoe Aldcroft will be eager to make an impression after missing the 6 Nations and a lot of the season to injury. England have been short-staffed in the second row, and with the absence of O’Donnell it’s a timely return for the Yorkshire lock.
Whatever combination runs out against the Baa-baas, it should prove too strong for the visitors, however distinguished their pedigree. Once more it will be (largely) professionals against amateurs, a cohesive unit against a pick-up side, but what a side to pick up!
With quality spread right across the field, spectators can look forward to a memorable encounter, played with a smile.