England’s captain Sarah Hunter is set to win her 125th cap this weekend but it will be from the bench. The No 8 is a replacement for the Women’s Six Nations final at Twickenham Stoop against France on Saturday with Emily Scarratt, fast approaching her own century of caps, leading the side.
Hunter returned after over a year out with injury for the 67-3 win over Italy a fortnight ago and was replaced on the hour by Poppy Cleall, who starts at No 8. Cleall has been England’s outstanding forward in this tournament and the head coach, Simon Middleton, knows he has an embarrassment of riches in the back five of his pack.
Middleton said: “It was great to have Sarah back against Italy but she’s not quite at the level she would want to be and we need for this game at the moment which is to be expected after 13 months out. She’s not quite there yet but it’s a challenge she’s more than up for.”
Zoe Harrison, also impressive as a replacement in Parma, makes her first start of the Six Nations at inside-centre with Helena Rowland retaining the fly-half spot. Marlie Packer, left out of the squad against Italy, starts at openside flanker with Zoe Aldcroft moving from lock to the blind side.
“We’ve brought Marlie back as physicality will be imperative against France and amongst other things that’s what Marlie gives you. She’s one of the best in the world in that area,” added Middleton.
The Red Roses know they have been preparing for their biggest test of this truncated tournament, which sees Ireland meet Italy for third place and Scotland and Wales playing to avoid the wooden spoon. France’s 56-15 victory in Dublin last weekend and a narrow defeat to England in the autumn are a warning. “We’re playing knockout rugby against one of the best teams in the world,” said Scarratt, who will win her 95th cap.