As Simon Middleton said when announcing his team to play Canada in the 3rd round of the Super Series: ‘In any successful squad you need players to demonstrate adaptability’. And his chosen starting XV to face the Maple Leafs is living proof of that requirement:
This was the line-up first announced:
15. Sarah McKenna (Saracens 23 caps)
4. Carys Williams (Loughborough Lightning 4 caps)
13. Millie Wood (Gloucester-Hartpury 5 caps)
12. Emily Scott (Harlequins 29 caps)
11. Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury 10 caps)
10. Zoe Harrison (Saracens 14 caps)
9. Claudia Macdonald (Wasps 5 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins 46 caps)
2. Lark Davies (Worcester Warriors 18 caps)
3. Hannah Botterman (Saracens 11 caps)
4. Catherine O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning 13 caps)
5. Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury 10 caps)
6. Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo 7 caps)
7. Jo Brown (Loughborough Lightning 6 caps)
8. Sarah Hunter (Captain Loughborough Lightning 113 caps)
16. Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks 17 caps)
17. Ellena Perry (Saracens 4 caps)
18. Chloe Edwards (Harlequins 1 cap)
19. Abbie Scott (Harlequins 37 caps)
20. Poppy Cleall (Saracens 30 caps)
21. Leanne Riley (Harlequins 28 caps)
22. Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning 79 caps)
23. Amber Reed (Bristol Bears 50 caps)
But within a few hours changes were under way: Emily Scott to full-back; her place taken by Amber Reed; the No 23 shirt to be worn by Lydia Thompson.
So that meant the withdrawal of Sarah McKenna from the firing-line. It meant also Scott would not be making an unexpected start at inside-centre. She is an adaptable player to be sure, but we have to rack out brains to think of the last time we saw her wearing the No 12 shirt. She played No 15 or No 10 for Quins last season and has represented England in both positions. But No 12?
Among the many quandaries facing Middleton are: how do you pick three sides capable of beating the three (other) strongest nations in the world within the space of nine days? How do you ensure none of your players are stretched beyond their limits? How do you achieve this with a squad two players fewer than your opponents?
In the game with the USA it’s disturbing to note that the final score (38-5) was reached in the 53rd minute. Perhaps the message was: ‘Save your energies for another day’; but that isn’t England’s way
Up front Hannah Botterman switches from loose-head to tight. If she’s equally comfortable in these positions, that’s good news for England. One of Jason Leonard’s great qualities was the ability to switch across like this without loss of performance.
It’s Abbie Scott’s turn to stand down in the second row. Zoe Aldcroft and Cath O’Donnell are leading performers there, but will they be able to emulate Scott’s mastery of the line-out? In the back-row Jo Brown has to shift over to the open side again. Let’s hope that Marlie Packer is fully fit and being held in store for the two big battles against France and New Zealand.
Middleton had to decide how best to accommodate both Millie Wood and Carys Williams, both essentially outside-centres. Both have played there and on the right-wing. We can see above how the issue was resolved.
The midfield link was one of the elements that didn’t work perfectly in the USA game. The same half-back pairing is recalled to duty.
Little surprise then that the three replacement backs can claim a cool 148 caps between them. And if Emily Scarratt should be called off the bench – and who can doubt it? – that will be the 80th time she has answered the nation’s call.
2 Russell (Captain)
The game starts in the early morning of Sunday 7 July at 01.15 BST