Source: Mike Lee - KLC Fotos

England v New Zealand – Preview

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This may well have been one of the hardest selection meetings Simon Middleton has led, including the odd World Cup final or two.

The Squad:

15 Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins, 15 caps)
14 Lydia Thompson (Worcester Warriors, 47 caps)
13 Holly Aitchison (Saracens, uncapped)
12 Amber Reed (vice-captain; Bristol Bears Women, 58 caps)
11 Abby Dow (Wasps, 18 caps)
10 Zoe Harrison (Saracens, 30 caps)
9 Claudia MacDonald (Wasps, 15 caps)
1 Hannah Botterman (Saracens, 22 caps)
2 Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 31 caps)
3 Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears, 36 caps)
4 Poppy Cleall (Saracens, 47 caps)
5 Abbie Ward (Bristol Bears, 47 caps)
6 Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury, 24 caps)
7 Marlie Packer (Saracens, 76 caps)
8 Sarah Hunter (captain; Loughborough Lightning, 126 caps)


16 Amy Cokayne (Harlequins, 57 caps)
17 Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins, 60 caps)
18 Maud Muir (Wasps, uncapped)
19 Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps, 62 caps)
20 Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors, 41 caps)
21 Leanne Infante (Bristol Bears, 44 caps)
22 Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 6 caps)
23 Lagi Tuima (Harlequins, 8 caps)

Non-playing Reserve: Florence Long (Worcester Warriors, uncapped)

The crucial decisions have been made. The midfield trio reads Harrison-Reed-Aitchison. Holly Aitchison pictured above) is the only uncapped player to start, but is a highly experienced all-rounder with great footballing gifts.

Of the other ten uncapped players brought into the training squad only Maud Muir is brought on to the bench. Her presence must reflect the management’s concern about England’s scrummaging strength, but she adds considerable ball-playing talents to her game.

Eleven members of the squad were on the ground when England last beat the Black Ferns at Rotorua in 2017. Happy but distant memories.

One area of great strength has been the back five of the pack. The answer once more is to place Zoe Aldcroft at 6 and Poppy Cleall next to Abbie Ward. This is a brave call; the hope must be that the Roses will gain maximum benefit from these two outstanding players arranged this way round.

There is a new name on the list at scrum-half, Leanne Infante. She claims to have gained 44 caps already! Can she possibly be as good a No 9 as Leanne Riley? Oh yes, she can! Congratulations to her.

We have become very used to momentous matches between England and France in recent years. Now the Red Roses face the less familiar challenge of two test matches against the world champions. The French will look on with intense interest since they will be confronting the Black Ferns twice too, the first time just six days after England’s second run-out at Northampton.

The four games could lead to a big shake-up in world rankings. It is just a pity that Canada, who sit between NZ and France in third place, are not scheduled to meet either of them while on tour in Europe.

This is the first time England have faced the Kiwis ‘first up’ for seven years. On all the intervening occasions they have had other fixtures to warm up on before the big event. Even with an empty east stand (still nearing completion) the atmosphere at Sandy Park should be electric.