Simon Middleton has spread his net even wider in naming a training squad of 31 to prepare for the second autumn international at Twickenham on November 21.
He has added Abbie Brown, England’s Sevens captain, to the mix and two Gloucester-Hartpury players return, Mo Hunt and Ellena Perry. Perry’s reappearance indicates that the staff are still anxious to find the best balance in the front row.
With only two test matches at his disposal Middleton hasn’t been able to give all his selections enough time in action. A player like Holly Aitchison is a first choice for the 7s team; she wasn’t in the 23 for Grenoble. If she appears on the bench at Twickenham, that will be hardly sufficient for her to make her mark. That was rather what happened to Meg Jones; she appeared with Kelly Smith on 68 minutes and played as if trying to make up for lost time. No surprise that she lacked the decision-making and composure she normally shows. Smith hardly saw the ball.
The captain returns to service to make the back-row choices trickier.
The policy might be to allow the newcomers and the bench players the chance to show their skills, leaving last week’s first choices to kick their heels. The problem is that France have won at HQ in the past. A win, preferably convincing, is a priority.
Abbie Brown (Loughborough Lighting, 5 caps)
Abbie Ward (Harlequins, 44 caps)
Abby Dow (Wasps, 14 caps)
Alex Matthews (Worcester, 39 caps)
Amy Cokayne (Harlequins, 52 caps)
Claudia MacDonald (Wasps, 11 caps)
Detysha Harper (Loughborough Lightning, 3 caps)
Ellena Perry (Gloucester-Hartpury, 9 caps)
Ellie Kildunne (Wasps, 10 caps)
Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning, 91 caps)
Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps, 57 caps)
Heather Kerr (Wasps, 23 caps)
Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 2 caps)
Holly Aitchison (Saracens, uncapped)
Jess Breach (Harlequins, 15 caps)
Katy Daley-Mclean (Sale Sharks, 115 caps)
Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury, 14 caps)
Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury, 54 caps)
Megan Jones (Wasps, 10 caps)
Leanne Riley (Harlequins, 39 caps)
Lagi Tuima (Harlequins, 5 caps)
Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 27 caps)
Laura Keates (Worcester Warriors, 61 caps)
Marlie Packer (Saracens, 73 caps)
Morwenna Talling (Loughborough Lightning, 2 caps)
Poppy Cleall (Saracens, 42 caps)
Sarah Beckett (Harlequins, 19 caps)
Sarah Hunter (Loughborough Lightning, 123 caps)
Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins, 19 caps)
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins, 55 caps)
Zoe Harrison (Saracens, 26 caps)
Let’s not forget that the following contracted players are missing:
That brings the total to 41. There are 30 places on the plane. (Some of) the rest, we may assume, will be ‘on call’ for the trip to New Zealand, not the happiest place to be in.
The 31 includes six of England’s 7s squad. Of them only Kildunne, Matthews and Rowland have already made major statements.
Their next opportunity will presumably come in the 2021 Six Nations. But that depends on whether all six unions find it possible to compete, and whether the Sevens programme won’t have picked up by next February. If it has, then selection becomes a shade simpler: a group of outstandingly gifted players will no longer be available.
A second Red Roses match transmitted on BBC2, this time at Twickenham, is another major advance for women’s rugby.