Here are two England teams:
15. Ellie Kildunne Sarah McKenna
14. Jess Breach Lydia Thompson
13. Emily Scarratt Lagi Tuima
12. Zoe Harrison Amber Reed
11. Abby Dow Kelly Smith
10. Helena Rowland Katy Daley-Mclean
9. Leanne Riley Mo Hunt
1. Vickii Cornborough Hannah Botterman
2. Amy Cokayne Lark Davies
3. Shaunagh Brown Sarah Bern
4. Abbie Ward Cath O’Donnell
5. Poppy Cleall Zoe Aldcroft
6. Alex Matthews Harriet Millar-Mills
7. Marlie Packer Vicky Fleetwood
8. Sarah Beckett Sarah Hunter
The one on the left started against France at Grenoble. The one on the right didn’t.
When you think of all the other players who have represented England in the recent past, you can see how hard the choices will be for World Cup places next year.
There has been no mention of contracts since August when they were due for renewal. That’s quite understandable in the current turmoil of events.
Let’s hope injuries don’t make life simpler for the selectors. They have a nasty habit of occurring in the run-up to the big event.
The England possibles need whittling down at some stage next year. It’s very doubtful the management have ever had so many quality players to choose from as now.
Let’s use the 28 contracted players as our base. To them we can add some of those who have been chosen over the last two years plus the Sevens players, who may yet be able and willing to take part in the RWC.
The contracted players of 2020:
Zoe Aldcroft, Sarah Beckett, Sarah Bern, Hannah Botterman, Jess Breach, Shaunagh Brown, Bryony Cleall, Poppy Cleall, Amy Cokayne, Vickii Cornborough, Katy Daley-Mclean, Lark Davies, Vicky Fleetwood, Zoe Harrison, Natasha Hunt, Sarah Hunter, Claudia Macdonald, Sarah McKenna, Cath O’ Donnell, Marlie Packer, Amber Reed, Leanne Riley, Emily Scarratt, Emily Scott, Kelly Smith, Lydia Thompson, Lagi Tuima and Abbie Ward
These players have appeared in the last year:
Amelia Harper, Detysha Harper, Harriet Millar-Mills, Heather Kerr, Laura Keates, Mia Venner, Morwenna Talling and Rownita Marston
Then there are at least six 7s players who could come into consideration. *Four have already appeared in the 15s format this year:
Holly Aitchison, Abbie Brown, *Meg Jones, *Ellie Kildunne, *Alex Matthews and *Helena Rowland
That brings the total to 42.
And there is still the possibility of further players in the Premier 15s fixtures demanding to be seen at representative level. The management have proved very open-minded about giving new talent a chance.
They may go on selecting from the widest squad possible, but at some stage they will have to take the plunge and reduce the total to RWC-like proportions. That is likely to come at the end of the next Six Nations sequence. How many more tests they manage to schedule is still in the air.
Then the question is: against whom? There are few enough teams who can hold their own against England in their present guise; only Canada come readily to mind. But it’s four years since they last registered a win, even if it was by a whopping 52-17.
Let’s hope for seven or eight games in total. Given the unevenness of the 6N, less experienced England prospects wouldn’t be challenged so hard in at least two of them. But a full programme would allow all sorts of combinations to be put to the test.
Where’s the Money coming from?
Behind these quandaries lies the biggest stumbling-block of all, the pandemic. That is the cause of the funding shortage that is plaguing rugby – and all sports. That is why the new contracts are still hanging in the air and why plans for the run-up to the RWC have been so disrupted.
The plague shows no sign of disappearing soon. It throws into doubt all future fixtures, right up to the grand climax in New Zealand next autumn. The good news comes in the form of vaccines that may speed a return to normal. And World Rugby is doing all it can to help the global game to get back on its feet.
A Rich Mine of Talent
It’s doubtful whether selectors have ever before been left in such doubt about final choices; England is blessed with a remarkable array of fine players. If the Sevens squad remains available for selection as well, that will make the job even more difficult.
You can imagine some of their names being added to the ‘certainties’ list to join the flight down under.