Source: Harlequins

Pick a Team, Change a Team

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It was inevitable: no sooner had John Mitchell and his staff picked a large squad to start preparations for the Six Nations in March than three of the elect had to forfeit their place.

For one of them, Amber Reid, this was the old old story – yet another injury to interrupt her England career. She first wore white twelve years ago.

For the other two, Ella Wyrwas and Gabriella Nigrelli, it’s a different story. Wyrwas must have been anxious to maintain her ranking as one of the Red Roses’ leading 9s; Nigrelli joins a group who have the cup of plenty dashed from their lips. She can ask Merryn Doidge for advice on how to counter the huge disappointment.

Women’s rugby is still adjusting to the new global calendar. In England’s case it meant reshaping their weekly league schedule. Here it meant one more round before they met up at St George’s Park for the first training session. It was that ninth round that brought the three injuries.

By the way, the RFU’s use of SGP, home to the Football Association, reflects on English rugby’s continued absence of a training centre.

The replacement choices are interesting in themselves. The squad loses a 12-cum-10, a 9 and an 8. We could all make our personal choices of replacements. In the event, in come Ella Cromack (Harlequins), Brooke Bradley (Exeter Chiefs) and Steph Else (Gloucester-Hartpury). Cromack had already stood out as a highly promising No 10 for the Under 18s; Else as a back-rower, capable of forcing her way into the G-H squad. Bradley was a less predictable choice from seveal skilled No 9s. At least it adds to Chiefs’ growing number of EQPs, as they struggle to win a place ahead of a galaxy of overseas stars down Devon way.

The good news is the selection of new faces, rather than reliance on the tried and tested. It brings renewed hope to all the talented players on show in the PWR. We can’t quite say ‘nobody is sure of her place’, but competition is the name of the game.

There is one variation to a similar change of cast, before the Red Roses set off for the WXV in New Zealand. There Lucy Packer and Sadia Kabeya suffered ill-timed injuries, to be replaced by Emma Sing and Daisy Hibbert-Jones. In this case Sing (full-back) was not a direct stand-in for Packer (No 9). The new trio form neat replacements.

Staff and analysts will be surveying everyone’s performance with the 21st century equivalent of a fine tooth-comb. They and the players know the squad will have to be whittled down to a manageable size before battle commences.

One of Mitchell’s steepest learning curves will be knowing how to announce rejection to disappointed squad members. This is where the presence of two women on the coaching staff (Lou Meadows and Sarah Hunter) will prove invaluable.

Like many leading nations, England have more than one target in view, the 2024 6N (for six of them), the next WXV (details still awaited) and the bull’s-eye, a home World Cup next year.

The new-look Squad

Forwards: Maisy Allen (Exeter Chiefs), Lark Atkin-Davies (Bristol Bears), Sarah Beckett (Gloucester-Hartpury), Hannah Botterman (Bristol Bears), Mackenzie Carson (Gloucester- Hartpury), Kelsey Clifford (Saracens), May Campbell (Saracens), Steph Else (Gloucester-Hartpury), Rosie Galligan (Saracens), Lizzie Hanlon (Exeter Chiefs), Daisy Hibbert-Jones (Loughborough Lightning), Lilli Ives Campion (Loughborough Lightning), Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), Sharifa Kasolo (Saracens), Alex Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury), Maud Muir (Gloucester- Hartpury), Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), Marlie Packer (Saracens), Ellena Perry (Gloucester-Hartpury), Connie Powell (Harlequins), Abbie Ward (Bristol Bears)

Backs: Holly Aitchison (Bristol Bears), Brooke Bradley (Exeter Chiefs), Jess Breach (Saracens), Sophie Bridger (Saracens), Katie Buchanan (Exeter Chiefs), Ella Cromack (Harlequins), Merryn Doidge (Exeter Chiefs), Abby Dow (Trailfinders Women), Sydney Gregson (Saracens), Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury), Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury), Megan Jones (Leicester Tigers), Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins), Claudia MacDonald (Exeter Chiefs), Lucy Packer (Harlequins), Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning), Emma Sing (Gloucester-Hartpury).

Every PWR club is represented bar Sale Sharks. That tells a worrying tale. Just for fun, how would this XV get on?

15 SING, 14 DOIDGE, 13 BRIDGER, 12 GREGSON, 11 BUCHANAN, 10 CROMACK, 9 BRADLEY, 1 CARSON, 2 HANLON, 3 CLIFFORD, 4 IVES CAMPION, 5 O’DONNELL, 6 ELSE, 7 ALLEN, 8 HIBBERT-JONES

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