Source: ©INPHO/Ryan Byrne

Any weaknesses in the Red Roses’ line-up?

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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.



  1. Sarah Becket could also move up to the 2nd row, she played there for Quins recently, plus im sure there are other players outside the squad that would step in and do a good job. If back row players do fill in at lock, a number of front row players (Shaunagh Brown, Heather Kerr, Amy Cockayne) could cover the back row.

    As for full back, I would quite like to see Kelly Smith, Abi Dowd and Jess Breach given a run out as the back three, because when they played there at U20’s they were devastating. Emily Scarratt played full back when the team won the world cup in 2014. Lucy Attwood is another possibility at 15.

  2. Yes, there are lots of fascinating possibilities available to Middleton. The trouble is, the crunch game comes first up. He must pick the side he can trust to produce the goods.
    In her latest pod Rachael Burford said the No 15 must be safe under the high ball, hence Sarah McKenna. I’ve seen both Dow and Attwood fail in this respect this season.
    Wing is a major source of strength with Thompson, Breach, Smith and Dow. Hard to leave out a player who scored 2 unforgettable tries in a world cup final against the world’s best, and played Woodman off the park in Rotorua. Sad thing is: wingers rarely figure on the bench. If they can offer a second option (full-back) they have a chance. That means Dow.
    A concern is No 7. I think the management prefer specialist flankers. Once Marlie Packer is counted out, that leaves only Vicky Fleetwood with the necessary pace and know-how on the open-side. Of the ones you mention, Cokayne fits the bill excellently. But she’s 1st-choice hooker. Has Kerr ever played back-row?
    Beckett was only filling in in the second row, surely.
    Yes, lots of talent waiting in the wings. Makes you wonder who’ll retain their contracts next year. Harriet Millar-Mills was invited in to join the test squad recently.

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