Simon Middleton has opted firmly for continuing his policy of finding ‘3 or 4 world-class players in each position’
The England Squad:
15. Ellie Kildunne (Wasps, 10 caps)
14. Claudia MacDonald (Wasps, 11 caps)
13. Lagi Tuima (Harlequins, 5 caps)
12. Zoe Harrison (Saracens, 26 caps)
11. Abby Dow (Wasps, 14 caps)
10. Katy Daley-Mclean (captain; Sale Sharks, 115 caps)
9. Leanne Riley (Harlequins, 39 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins, 55 caps)
2. Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 27 caps)
3. Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins, 19 caps)
4. Abbie Ward (Harlequins, 44 caps
5. Morwenna Talling (Loughborough Lightning, 2 caps)
6. Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps, 57 caps)
7. Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors, 39 caps)
8. Poppy Cleall (Saracens, 42 caps)
16. Amy Cokayne (Harlequins, 52 caps)
17. Ellena Perry (Gloucester-Hartpury, 9 caps)
18. Laura Keates (Worcester Warriors, 61 caps)
19. Sarah Beckett (Harlequins, 19 caps)
20. Marlie Packer (Saracens, 73 caps)
21. Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury, 54 caps)
22. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 2 caps)
23. Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning, 91 caps)
This approach means including some who are still relatively new to the set-up (Lagi Tuima and Morwenna Talling to start; Ellena Perry and Helena Rowland for later), and leaving a major name like Emily Scarratt on the bench.
It’s a big call. The French side is stronger than last week’s, and England didn’t find try-scoring especially easy.
In Jess Breach’s enforced absence Claudia Macdonald returns to the wing where she has already appeared against the Black Ferns, no less. Another major decision is to let Alex Matthews play on the open-side. Given her undoubted pace in Sevens, maybe it’s a surprise she hasn’t been tried there before.
As replacement props we find a combination of the experienced (Laura Keates) and the youthful (Perry), who reappears after being overlooked for a season.
Sarah Hunter hasn’t recovered sufficiently to play, so steering the ship is Katy Daley-Mclean. She has achieved the feat at World Cup final level, so she knows a thing or two.
7 Hermet (captain)
20 Ménager R.
The most notable selections concern the players who – we must assume – were the ones who tested positive before the Ireland game. Names we might have expected to see starting (Romane Ménager and Jessy Trémoulière) are left on the bench.
Certainly this is a stronger line-up than last time, but players who found the going tough are left in place.
Annick Hayraud gave a clear-headed response to her team’s defeat in Grenoble. In her opinion they lacked a bit in collective experience. Against a team like England, when you’re not on top of your game, you’re straight into trouble. Hence the points they offered them.
These are the things her team will have to put right quickly. But time is needed to work them through.
Once again Hayraud hints at the lack of time spent training together. This is the direct consequence of the semi-pro status enjoyed by her players. But Amy Cokayne’s recent opinions put that set-up in perspective. There are definite drawbacks in the full-term professionalism enjoyed by most of her team-mates. She and the French squad all have a career sorted for the day when boots have to be hung up. Some of her younger team-mates have known nothing but rugby.
What about ‘the points they offered them’?
If we take just one example: Caroline Drouin sent a long relieving kick downfield to Zoe Harrison who fed the ball to Jess Breach in midfield; she ran through a disorganised defence to score.
But Ellie Kildunne also sent an ill-considered punt out of defence which was collected by Shannon Izar. In this case the English defensive line was quick enough to snuff out the counter-attack.
This, the final fling of the year, promises to be another great spectacle.
Saturday 21 November
Available on BBC2
We can all join in the thanks offered to the back-room staffs who have succeeded in getting this show on the road.