Source: Dan Mullan - RFU/The RFU Collection via Getty Images

Decisive Changes to the Red Roses

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Simon Middleton has announced the names of 40 players (listed below) to join the training squad preparing for the four autumn internationals.

But his most significant statement concerns Sevens. Players will no longer be able to switch from one format to the other. So all 40 have had to commit themselves to 15s for the foreseeable future.

At once our eyes dart around to see who is there and, more importantly, who is not. Two players we would have wished to see turning out against the Black Ferns are Mo Hunt and Meg Jones. They are not of the number, but only Jones has pronounced in favour of 7s. Hunt is currently injured.

Against that the 15s squad has gained enormously with the inclusion of three 7s specialists, Alex Matthews, Helena Rowland and Holly Aitchison. Heather Cowell, the Quins winger, only recently debuted for GB 7s in Canada but returns to the fold.

The Uncapped Players

The eleven chosen must represent the largest intake of new blood for a very long while. There are four forwards, Connie Powell (hooker), Maud Muir (prop), Sadia Kabeya and Emily Robinson (back row). All have been prominent over the last two seasons at least.

Out behind no fewer than seven new candidates. Two of them, Flo Robinson and Merryn Doidge, were deprived of a first cap when the lights went out in Lille. Robinson is one selection whose position is still to be nailed down. She has played No 9, No 10 and in the centre. The England staff are sure to have their own ideas for her future.

There are two scrum halves, Ella Wyrwas and Lucy Packer. Though Packer flew out to the Super Series in the States to replace Mo Hunt, she didn’t get a game. Her problem is that she hardly gets a game for Quins either, having played once on the wing and once as second-choice No 9. How far will club coaches be willing to accommodate England’s requests?

Emma Sing is given the chance to compete with Doidge at full-back and Cowell fully deserves her chance, but there is heavy competition on the wing.

One of England’s uncertainties has been at centre, so it’s good to see Aitchison opting for the longer format. She is a highly skilled technician.

The eleven are living proof of the quality now being revealed in the Prem 15s. Delighted as they will all be, the next step may be the hardest: to feature in the final series squad.

Old-Timers

The familiar faces are nearly all back, with one regretted absence affecting England’s chances. But then, who really needs a World Player of the Year? If England lose all four games, we’ll know the answer.

It’s excellent to see long-absent friends restored to the programme, especially Lydia Thompson, though she hasn’t figured on Worcester’s team-sheets yet. It’s important that Amber Reed is restored to action.

Leanne Riley’s name appears, though she has been on the injured list till now. That may explain the presence of those two uncapped No 9s.

The new forward’s coach, Louis Deacon, has one simple task to perform: to build a safe and secure scrum. This has been a recurrent weakness over recent seasons. It’s high time that England finds technically accurate forwards to counter the known strengths of the autumn opposition, Canada and New Zealand above all. One reason for Exeter Chiefs’ prominence this season is the presence of an all-Canadian front row, Olivia DeMerchant, Emily Tuttosi and DaLeaka Menin.

The squad has two mid-week sessions planned to sort out any remaining areas of doubt.

Coverage

The news that BBC2 is to cover all four matches is excellent. The BBC sustained loud attacks for what looked like its lukewarm coverage of the 2021 Six Nations. With matches of an even higher standard on the cards it may reap a belated reward for its full-scale backing.

The Squad:

Abbie Ward (Bristol Bears)
Abby Dow (Wasps)
Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors)
Amber Reed (Bristol Bears)
Amy Cokayne (Harlequins)
Bryony Cleall (Wasps)
Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning)
Claudia MacDonald (Wasps)
Connie Powell (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Detysha Harper (Loughborough Lightning)
Ella Wyrwas (Saracens)
Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins)
Emily Robinson (Harlequins)
Emma Sing (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Flo Robinson (Exeter Chiefs)
Hannah Botterman (Saracens)
Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps)
Heather Cowell (Harlequins)
Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning)
Holly Aitchison (Saracens)
Jess Breach (Harlequins)
Lagi Tuima (Harlequins)
Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning)
Leanne Riley (Bristol Bears)
Lucy Packer (Harlequins)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester Warriors)
Marlie Packer (Saracens)
Maud Muir (Wasps)
Merryn Doidge (Exeter Chiefs)
Poppy Cleall (Saracens)
Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning)
Sarah Beckett (Harlequins)
Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears)
Sarah Hunter (Loughborough Lightning)
Sarah McKenna (Saracens)
Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins)
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens)
Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury)
Zoe Harrison (Saracens)

The Make-up:
There are 18 backs and 22 forwards.

23 of the 40 are London-based; six come from Lightning; the rest from the west half of the country.
Not a single representative plays in the north. That tells its own sad story.