Merchant returns for title decider

England Women welcome back flying winger Katherine Merchant to the starting line-up as the reigning Six Nations champions look to secure a record seventh successive crown this Saturday, and a Grand Slam, against Ireland at Esher RFC, kick off 2pm.

Although England Head Coach Gary Street has kept his pack unchanged he has made a handful of changes in the backline which sees Merchant, who has scored an impressive 37 tries in 43 appearances for England, return to action for the first time since England’s Six Nations victory against Italy a month ago.

Lichfield’s Natasha Hunt moves from full-back to scrum-half for this clash, with the versatile Emily Scarratt this time wearing the No. 15 jersey. Bristol’s Kim Oliver starts at centre while England also welcome back Saracens’ flanker Hannah Gallagher to the fold.

Street, whose side have scored 138 points and conceded just six on route to the final round, said: “Kat gives us some great experience in the backline and she is a potent attacking player and that could be vital on Saturday in what I am expecting to be a very close game.

“I have made a few tactical tweaks in the backline which will give us some new attacking options whilst I believe it will also strengthen our game for this vital match. Our pack really set the marker against France last weekend, producing outstanding ball with huge physicality and we need them to replicate that against Ireland.”

Saturday’s match is set to be a thriller with both England and Ireland still in the hunt to claim the Six Nations crown. Although England are the only side unbeaten side in the championship so far, Ireland could still take the title if they defeat England and score 24 points or more.

Starting XV:
15 Emily  Scarratt
14 Katherine Merchant
13Rachael Burford
12 Kimberley Oliver
11 Kay Wilson
10 Katy Mclean (C)
9 Natasha Hunt
1 Laura  Keates
2 Victoria Fleetwood
3 Sophie Hemming
4 Rowena Burnfield
5 Tamara Taylor
6 Marlie Packer
7 Margaret Alphonsi (VC)
8 Sarah Hunter

16 Amy Turner
17 Rochelle Clark
18 Rebecca Essex
19 Hannah Gallagher
20 La Toya Mason
21 Ceri Large
22 Michaela Staniford