Our writers pick their Red Roses team to face Italy – who will replace Sarah Hunter at No 8?
England opened their Women’s Six Nations campaign with a 58-7 victory against Scotland as long-time captain Sarah Hunter bowed out at Kingston Park. Now they head to Franklin’s Gardens on Sunday afternoon to face Italy in the hope of making it two wins from two in this year’s championship.
Injuries to key players like Emily Scarratt and Zoe Harrison, as well as Abbie Ward’s pregnancy, have left the Red Roses squad depleted for this Six Nations. Amber Reed and Poppy Cleall have also been ruled out of this weekend’s match having suffered knee injuries against Scotland.
Here our writers select their match-day 23s to face Italy, who lost 22-12 to France in their first match.
Ideally you would keep the same team to create consistency, but with Sarah Hunter retiring and the injuries to Poppy Cleall and Amber Reed there will be changes.
If she had been fit, I’d have put Poppy Cleall at No 8. As she isn’t available, I’d bring in Alex Matthews (hopefully she is fit to return) at No 8, then have Sadia Kabeya and Marlie Packer at six and seven respectively. Sarah Beckett is another option at No 8 if Matthews is not fit.
In the second row, Cath O’Donnell comes in alongside Zoe Aldrcroft and with Amber Reed not fit, Tatyana Heard can come in at 12 and Sarah McKenna could come onto the bench; she can cover full-back and ten and centre.
Italy played well against France and I think they will give England more of a challenge.
Further injuries suffered in Saturday’s win over Scotland limit options, but this remains a very strong side full of pace and power.
Natasha Hunt comes in to start at scrum-half, if passed fit. She will add further zip to a back-line that impressed in the opening round.
Poppy Cleall and Sarah Hunter will be missed, but this back row has a lot of potential and could be England’s strongest option going forward.
Tatyana Heard did well when coming on for Amber Reed in midfield early on last weekend, but I think Sarah McKenna brings another kicking option, as well as plenty of experience, to the back-line.
I’d also bring in the defensively-solid Lydia Thompson on the wing as the Italian back three are very dangerous with ball in hand and the selection of Natasha Hunt is made in the hope that she is fit.
Up front, Sarah Beckett is well worth a start at No 8 and Cath O’Donnell comes into the second row.
Sarah Beckett has the first chance to fill the huge void left by Sarah Hunter’s retirement in the back row. I am also assuming there will be two further enforced changes with potential injuries to centre Amber Reed and second row Poppy Cleall, so Tatyana Heard and Cath O’Donnell get their opportunities.
My one tactical change would be at scrum-half. Ella Wyrwas was a real livewire as a replacement on her debut against Scotland and I would be fascinated to see if she can maintain that electric tempo as a starter.