The squad chosen by Simon Middleton to play in the Super Series 2019:
Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury) lock
Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo) flank/8
Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears) THP
Hannah Botterman (Saracens) LHP/THP
Poppy Cleall (Saracens) 8/flank/lock
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins) LHP
Lark Davies (Worcester Warriors) hooker
Chloe Edwards (Harlequins)* THP
Sarah Hunter (Captain, Loughborough Lightning) 8
Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks) LHP/THP/hooker
Clara Nielson (Bristol Bears)* hooker
Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning) lock
Marlie Packer (Saracens) flank
Ellena Perry (Saracens) LHP
Abbie Scott (Harlequins) lock
Zoe Harrison (Saracens) 10
Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury) 12
Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury) 9
Claudia MacDonald (Wasps) 9
Sarah McKenna (Saracens) 15
Amber Reed (Bristol Bears) 12/10
Leanne Riley (Harlequins) 9
Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning) 13/15
Emily Scott (Harlequins) 15/10
Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury) 11/14
Lydia Thompson (Worcester Warriors) 14/11
Lagi Tuima (Bristol Bears) 13
Carys Williams (Loughborough Lightning) 13/14
Unavailable for selection due to injury:
Jess Breach (Harlequins)
Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins)
Rachael Burford (Harlequins)
Rowena Burnfield (Richmond)
Bryony Cleall (Saracens)
Katy Daley-Mclean (Loughborough Lightning)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens)
Amy Cokayne (Wasps) is unavailable for selection due to work commitments.
The 28 names posted by Simon Middleton for the Super Series in California this month are very different from any list we might have expected a few weeks ago. it’s hard to recall a period when so many first-choice players have been unavailable.
You could build a half-decent Sevens squad out of the absentees.
So it gives a wonderful opportunity to players on the margins of the elite team to prove their worth. And they will have so many more openings available to them before the 2021 World Cup. They are the uncontracted Amber Reed, Heather Kerr, Chloe Edwards and Clara Nielson, and the players on EPS agreements, Claudia Macdonald, Ellena Perry, Emily Scott and Carys Williams.
The central question: is this group capable of seeing off first the French, then the Black Ferns over a period of four days?
This is the sort of challenge you expect only in the final stages of a World Cup. That is precisely why this tournament is so valuable. It will give everyone the chance to measure themselves against the demands of the summit of women’s rugby.
The one player who will be most missed is Katy Daley-Maclean. But this is a situation that the management has been aware of for several years. In her place we have the highly talented Zoe Harrison, who brings her own range of qualities to the No 10 position, accurate distribution and kicking, sinuous running and defensive strength.
Of course we will miss Jess Breach’s searing pace and finishing skills. With Abby Dow not mentioned in despatches either, that leaves Kelly Smith and Lydia Thompson as the only gold-plated wingers. Sarah McKenna slipped in on the left wing when Emily Scott took her place at No 15 in recent 6 Nations games, and Carys Williams has found herself moved out to the right wing on occasion, but England are potentially one short in these vital positions.
In an ideal world we would prefer to see Rachael Burford’s skills put to good use in the centre – not least her distribution and defence, but there is promising talent coming through in the shapes of Lagi Tuima and Tatyana Heard.
For the first time in a long while three scrum-halves are listed.
Up front the pack should be able to look after itself even without the presence of Amy Cokayne, Bryony Cleall, Shaunagh Brown, Rowena Burnfield and Vicky Fleetwood. The absence of Brown and Cleall puts the management’s experiment of using them as props on hold for another period.
It means the recall of Heather Kerr – she earned her first cap way back in 2015 – and the introduction of the uncapped Chloe Edwards and Clara Nielson to the front row. Both the latter played in the (uncapped) game against the Barbarians recently.
For once we have three locks nominated for the second row: Zoe Aldcroft, Cath O’Donnell and Abbie Scott. They should provide plenty of ballast in attack and defence.
Further back there is a weakness at open-side. Without Vicky Fleetwood and Poppy Leitch, and with Jo Brown not included as a makeshift No 7, there is no obvious stand-in for Marlie Packer. Great player though she is, she will need a sit-down at some point. When she was injured during the 6 Nations, Amy Cokayne filled in capably – that is not an option this time round.
It is no disrespect to the newer names on the list to say that this is not the choice the management would have wanted to make. The bonus is that it gives them the chance to assess the merits of players who would otherwise have remained untested at the top level.
Come the autumn internationals and the 2020 Six Nations, Simon Middleton and his staff will have a much wider span of players that have been exposed to high quality rugby.
It would be lovely to think that this new-look squad could see off all-comers in California.