Here’s the Red Roses squad for the first autumn international of 2019 versus France on 9 November.
This is a group of 24, not 23, because of the interesting inclusion of Detysha Harper as a non-playing reserve. She (a prop) is one of two Harpers in the recent U20 squad. The other, Amelia, captained the side against the USA from the flank. The management is obviously looking to strengthen the cast of props for the future.
Middleton has had to call on three uncontracted players, Abby Dow, Ellena Perry and Heather Kerr. The absentees are Amber Reed, Amy Cokayne, Bryony Cleall, Cath O’Donnell, Claudia Macdonald, Kelly Smith, Lagi Tuima and Vickii Cornborough. That is a substantial loss to the English cause. Though their replacements are high-class, it thins out the support strength in crucial positions, for example the second row. Only three Red Roses have played there, and Poppy Cleall has only just returned to full working order.
Meantime, the French squad has achieved a rarity, taking on the Irish at Marcoussis in a two-day training programme last weekend. Such arrangements are still unusual, but have been welcomed on all sides. For the record, France beat Ireland 29-0, but that outcome was far less important than the occasion. Ireland took 26 players over and made sure everyone had game-time.
France will play England five times within one year – a new record! – once in San Diego, twice in the Six Nations and twice in the imminent autumn internationals. This could give the ranking positions a severe jolt, not to mention English confidence rocked by events in Japan.
To show the mountain England have to climb, here’s a reminder of results dating back to the last time they actually won away from home:
2012 15-3 A
2012 29-25 N
2012 23-13 H
2013 20-30 H
2014 6-18 A
2015 39-7 H
2015 0-11 A
2016 17-13 N
2017 26-13 H
2017 20-3 WC
2018 17-18 A
2019 41-26 H
2019 20-18 N
[N = Neutral venue; a combination of various European competitions and series in North America
WC = World Cup]
Yes, 2012, year of the London Olympics. Seems like a lifetime ago.
The French have not yet announced their 23. But if they play anywhere near as well as they did against the USA (53-14) and more especially New Zealand (25-16) in California last summer, then England will need to hold on to their hats. And the sides that turned out there have been immeasurably strengthened by the recall to service of such redoubtable footballers as Lénaïg Corson, Caroline Drouin, Marjorie Mayans and Romane Ménager.
The Red Roses’ new professional era will be put to a stern test.