Red Roses side to face Italy
By Mark Stevens
England Women head coach Simon Middleton has made six changes, one of which is positional, to his starting XV for Saturday’s Six Nations contest against Italy at Sandy Park (12:05pm).
The Red Roses are three bonus-point wins from three so far in the 2019 Women’s Six Nations as they prepare to face unbeaten Italy in the fourth round of this season’s Championshop.
Having surpassed 110 caps in this year’s Six Nations campaign, Sarah Hunter of Loughborough Lightning returns to the starting line-up as captain. Emily Scarratt, also of Loughborough Lightning, is named at centre having missed the Red Roses clash against Wales in the third round through injury.
After being selected as a replacement against Wales, Worcester Valkyries’ hooker Lark Davies will start as hooker in an otherwise unchanged front row.
Harlequins Ladies’ Leanne Riley and Gloucester-Hartpury’s Kelly Smith will both make their third starts in this year’s competition as scrum half and left wing respectively.
In a positional change, Harlequins Ladies’ Jess Breach moves to the right wing.
Also making her return from injury and earning her first selection in the 2019 Six Nations is Saracens Women’s Vicky Fleetwood.
Middleton said: “We are hugely excited about this upcoming game and are under no illusion that it’s going to be a tough contest. This is just as big a game for Italy as it is for us and they will be going into this match well-organised and energised.
“Having put in three strong performances so far we are confident but we want to keep improving and this weekend it will be about pushing ourselves to be as good as we can be; we need to deliver a comprehensive performance where we are disciplined in our attack.
“Having Emily Scarratt back in the side this weekend is huge for us and you only have to look at the quality of players named on the bench to see the strength and depth that we’ve developed within this squad.”
England will play in front of a record ticketed home crowd for a non-Rugby World Cup game on Saturday with Middleton adding: “Knowing that we’ll be playing to a record crowd at Sandy Park will give the side a real boost. Having the opportunity to take the Red Roses across the country is brilliant for the growth of the women’s game.”
The two sides last met in the 2018 Six Nations where England defeated Italy 42-7.
England Women’s Match-day 23 against Italy:
15. Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women, 20 caps)
14. Jess Breach (Harlequins Ladies, 5 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning, 76 caps)
12. Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women, 11 caps)
11. Kelly Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury, 7 caps)
10. Katy Daley-Mclean (Loughborough Lightning, 105 caps)
9. Leanne Riley (Harlequins Ladies, 26 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Ladies, 44 caps)
2. Lark Davies (Worcester Valkyries, 16 caps)
3. Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears Women, 23 caps)
4. Catherine O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning, 10 caps)
5. Abbie Scott (Harlequins Ladies, 34 caps)
6. Sarah Beckett (Firwood Waterloo Ladies, 4 caps)
7. Marlie Packer (Saracens Women, 63 caps)
8. Sarah Hunter (Loughborough Lightning, 111 caps, capt)
16. Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens Women, 67 caps)
17. Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women, 8 caps)
18. Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Ladies, 8 caps)
19. Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women, 27 caps)
20. Jo Brown (Loughborough Lightning, 4 caps)
21. Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury, 44 caps)
22. Rachael Burford (Harlequins Ladies, 82 caps)
23. Emily Scott (Harlequins Ladies, 26 caps)