It has been suggested, in a recent preview of England’s chances in the coming Six Nations tournament, that full-back and fly-half are positions where the Roses might be short of depth. However, you could point a finger in a different direction.
Not for the first time England’s second row is short of numbers. With the possible absence of both Cath O’Donnell and Abbie Scott, that leaves only Zoe Aldcroft as a regular lock among the contracted 28. Poppy Cleall has been moved forward to play there more than once, but no new player has been introduced to that position since Rosie Galligan made a 15-minute appearance off the bench against Ireland last year.
With seven of the contracted forwards allocated to the front row (Vicky Fleetwood a possible extra) out of a total of fifteen, that leaves little room for luxury items like second-rowers.
Over the last three 6N seasons five Red Roses have started there:
2019: O’Donnell + Cleall; O’Donnell + Scott; O’Donnell + Scott; O’Donnell + Scott; Cleall + Scott
2018: Scott + Taylor; Scott + Taylor; Scott + Taylor; Scott + Taylor; Scott + Cleall
2017: Taylor + Millar-Mills x 5
Both Harriet Millar-Mills and Poppy Cleall were drafted in from the back row. Of the other three, Tamara Taylor has retired from international rugby with 115 caps to her name; Abbie Scott and Cath O’Donnell can look forward to adding many more to theirs. Zoe Aldcroft has proved her worth recently to provide one alternative choice.
It’s a strange feature of the modern game that replacements are frequently made in certain positions, rarely in others. The front row almost always changes; so does scrum-half. but second-rowers have to tough it out more often than not.
As regards the two other positions mentioned: England can offer Emily Scott and Abby Dow at full back. Against Gloucester-Hartpury last season Scott set up the greatest try of the campaign from behind her own line. Dow has been switching between wing and full-back for Wasps this year and is in sparkling form. Both have a good boot on them and tackle vigorously.
At half-back any replacement for Katy Daley-Mclean has an impossible job. Nobody can reproduce her levels of attainment in every test match, so there’s no point in expecting it. But in Zoe Harrison and Amber Reed England possesses two fine footballers who can keep their side on the front foot in attack and bolster the defence with a firm shoulder.