Source: ©INPHO/Matteo Ciambelli

A Squad to conjure with – England Team v Italy – Preview

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Simon Middleton has chosen the following players to represent their country against Italy:

15. Ellie Kildunne (Wasps, 12 caps)
14. Jess Breach (Harlequins, 16 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning, 92 caps)
12. Megan Jones (Wasps, 12 caps)
11. Abby Dow (Wasps, 15 caps)
10. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 4 caps)
9. Leanne Riley (Harlequins, 41 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins 57 caps)
2. Amy Cokayne (Harlequins, 54 caps)
3. Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins, 21 caps)
4. Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury, 21 caps)
5. Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning, 17 caps)
6. Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors, 41 caps)
7. Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 77 caps)
8. Sarah Hunter (captain; Loughborough Lightning, 123 caps)


16. Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 29 caps)
17. Hannah Botterman (Saracens, 20 caps)
18. Bryony Cleall (Saracens, 2 caps)
19. Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps, 59 caps)
20. Poppy Cleall (Saracens, 44 caps)
21. Claudia MacDonald (Wasps, 13 caps)
22. Zoe Harrison (Saracens, 27 caps)
23. Sarah McKenna (Saracens, 33 caps)

Non-playing reserve: Maud Muir (Wasps, uncapped)

The squad shows four variations on my 15 guesses.

Middleton keeps Rowland at No 10, wanting to see her widen her experience after a not quite perfect showing last week; Riley stays ahead of Macdonald at No 9; in the pack he sticks with the tried and trusted in the front row rather than giving Harper a run; and Millar-Mills remains his all-purpose resource in the back 5.

Another way of putting it is: who needs Poppy Cleall (Player of the Match) or Abbie Ward (the most complete lock forward in Europe) in the starting line-up? Such is the overwhelming strength England enjoy at present.

The threatening back-3 of Kildunne-Breach-Dow is restored, and Megan Jones comes into the all-important link position of 12. Middleton doesn’t really see her as a 10.

Seven players based outside London manage to squeeze into the 23.

Unfortunately for the good name of the 6 Nations, this match threatens to be another case of one-way traffic. The Red Roses put 54 points on the Azzurre away in November. With competition for places in the team growing even stronger, and with self-criticism abounding after the imperfect show against Scotland, England are likely to be even more ruthless than last time in Italy.

Rendez-vous in Parma not Padua. We all seem agreed on the venue at last.