Source: Fiona Goodall - World Rugby via Getty Images

The Last Hurdle before Things hot up

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England v South Africa

First the two squads:

England: 15. Sarah McKenna, 14. Abby Dow,13. Holly Aitchison, 12. Tatyana Heard, 11. Jess Breach, 10. Zoe Harrison, 9. Lucy Packer, 1. Hannah Botterman, 2. Connie Powell, 3. Maud Muir, 4. Rosie Galligan, 5. Cath O’Donnell, 6. Morwenna Talling, 7. Marlie Packer (captain), 8. Poppy Cleall
Bench: 16. Amy Cokayne, 17. Vickii Cornborough, 18. Sarah Bern, 19. Zoe Aldcroft, 20. Sadia Kabeya, 21. Leanne Infante, 22. Emily Scarratt, 23. Helena Rowland

South Africa: 15. Eloise Webb (9 caps), 14. Nomawethu Mabenge (10 caps), 13. Simamkele Namba (8 caps), 12. Chumisa Qawe (9 caps), 11. Nadine Roos (10 caps), 10. Zenay Jordaan (35 caps), 9. Tayla Kinsey (23 caps), 8. Aseza Hele (15 caps), 7. Lerato Makua (6 caps), 6. Lusanda Dumke (18 caps), 5. Catha Jacobs (8 caps), 4. Nolusindiso Booi (captain, 32 caps), 3. Babalwa Latsha (19 caps), 2. Roseline Botes (7 caps), 1. Sanelisiwe Charlie (6 caps)
Bench: 16. Micke Gunter (3 caps), 17. Yonela Ngxingolo (18 caps), 18. Azisa Mkiva(1 cap), 19. Nompumelelo Mathe (8 caps), 20. Sizophila Solontsi (15 caps), 21. Rumandi Potgieter (3 caps), 22. Jakkie Cilliers (2 caps), 23. Chuma Qawe (3 caps)


At last Simon Middleton has announced a squad within a hundred miles of my predictions. Now we can see what his selection strategy was for the opening phases of the competition. As regards overall strength his three selections read A-A-B. In other words he was thoroughly cautious.

While I assumed he might allow some of the less experienced squad members to start against Fiji, he was taking no risks. Against France we cannot be certain how far the team was following strict orders, but the limited ambitions they showed there would fit that safety-first approach equally well.

This game against the Boks was his last chance to include the many players who have not yet had the privilege of turning out at this World Cup.

To date just 16 have started, Marlie Packer replacing Sadia Kabeya for the France match; he kept the same bench. That made a total of 24, leaving eight still to appear in combat. They were: Jess Breach, Lark Davies, Laura Keates, Morwenna Talling, Rosie Galligan, Sarah McKenna, Shaunagh Brown and Tatyana Heard. Five of them now get their chance.

Marlie Packer is honoured with the captaincy, becoming the sixth squad member to take charge. Her Saracens’ chum, Poppy Cleall, at last gets a starting call-up, but must take orders from her. They will be loud and plentiful.

Sarah McKenna at last finds herself in the 15 shirt, surely her preferred one; Holly Aitchison plays 13, a position she occupied with distinction last autumn against the Black Ferns, when Emily Scarratt was still recovering from her broken leg. Tatyana Heard will offer a quite different approach from Helena Rowland at inside-centre. The pace on the wing looks devastating.

It will be a significant day for Zoe Harrison, again called up to fill the pivotal position of No 10 (not Downing Street this time). Will she spread the ball often and wide as she has done so often in the past? That element was missing last time out, perhaps following orders from the bridge.

In the ongoing competition to find the strongest bench yet, this collection must be in line for the Big Prize. It does look overwhelmingly strong.

South Africa

It might appear perverse, but Stanley Raubenheimer has followed Middleton’s strategy. He has used this game to give all his squad of 32 the chance to appear at the World Cup. He said the two
previous games had taken a lot out of the players. Unspoken, that means this was a game they couldn’t expect to win, so newer, younger players could perform without fear or concerns about
past performances. Let’s hope they can enjoy the challenge.

Referee: Lauren Jenner (NZR)
Assistant Referee 1: Hollie Davidson (SRU) Assistant Referee 2: Tyler Miller (RA)
TMO: Lee Jeffrey (NZR)

Sunday 23 October Whangarei
Kick-off: 05.45 Coverage in UK: ITV