This autumn will be one of England Women’s most challenging periods with five tests against France and world champions New Zealand in as many weeks.
The international action kicks off when the reigning Six Nations and Nations Cup champions take on France in an uncapped game in Marseille on November 2nd, followed by a full on international test match against the same opposition just three days later in Aix-en-Provence.
Lichfield and England backrower Sarah Hunter has been charged with leading England against France and she’ll be hoping she can help kick start England’s autumn series with a bang.
Hunter, who has 31 caps, said: “When Gary asked me to be captain against Canada in the Nations Cup it was an absolute privilege. I was over the moon, so when he rang to say he wanted me to do it again in a two match series against France I was delighted.”
Hunter will be leading a relatively young squad, sprinkled with some seasoned internationals in France. Seven uncapped players has been named in the squad which includes Hannah Gallagher, Rose Jay, Ceri Large, Alexandra Matthews, Harriet Millar-Mills, Lydia Thompson and Isobel Noel-Smith with both Gallagher and Matthews making the step up from the England U20s squad.
Hunter added: “Playing France in France is always notoriously difficult. Often their teams are supported by big patriotic crowds so it’s always an intimidating atmosphere. However, I think every English player relishes that kind of challenge and I know all of our new players have experienced playing France in France at England Under 20s level so they’ll have some knowledge and experience of what it’s like. What I’ll be saying to them is to enjoy the experience and that getting your first cap out in France is going to be very special.”
Some three weeks later and England will face the reigning world champions New Zealand at Twickenham Stadium for the first of three matches in England. The last time the two sides met was in the 2010 Rugby World Cup final where England lost 13-10. With the two best sides in international women’s rugby coming face to face again, the series is set to be a thriller.
“These games against France will definitely be a stepping stone as we build towards the New Zealand tests,” said Hunter. “Although we won’t be taking France lightly at all, ultimately New Zealand are the number one team in the world and we will have to be at our best to come out victorious.
“The strength and depth we have in this squad, and the way we played at the Nations Cup this summer I think shows we are a strong side and we have come back from that world cup defeat. We certainly have the potential to write the wrongs of the world cup final and France will give us the chance to show what we can do as well as, as individuals, stake our claim to be in that squad. Playing New Zealand at Twickenham is massive and no one wants to not get selected for that. We want to give our coaches some selection headaches ahead of that series.”
England Women Autumn International Series
Nov 2nd France v England, Jean Bouin Stadium, Marseille, KO 6pm GMT
Nov 5th France v England, Pierre de Coubertin Stadium at Chateaurenard, KO 2pm GMT
Nov 26th England v New Zealand, Twickenham Stadium, KO 5pm
Nov 29th England v New Zealand, Esher RFC, KO 7pm
Dec 3rd England v New Zealand, Esher RFC, 2pm
Tickets for the game at Twickenham on November 26th are available from Ticketmaster.co.uk and group booking are available from the RFU by calling 0871 22 22 017, option 6. Prices range from £65 to £35. Junior tickets cost just £15.
Tickets for the international tests at Esher RFC on November 29th and December 3rd will be available on the gate and cost £10 for adults and £5 for juniors.
England Squad v France
Rowena Burnfield (Richmond)
Rochelle Clark (Worcester)
Rosemarie Crowley (Lichfield)
Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield)
Hannah Gallagher (Saracens)
Natasha Hunt (Lichfield)
Sarah Hunter (Lichfield)
Rose Jay (Lichfield)
Laura Keates (Worcester)
Ceri Large (Worcester)
La Toya Mason (Wasps)
Alexandra Matthews (Richmond)
Sarah McKenna (Wasps)
Katherine Merchant (Worcester)
Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield)
Isobel Noel-Smith (Bristol)
Kimberley Oliver (Bristol)
Marlie Packer (Bristol)
Georgina Roberts (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
Emily Scarratt (Lichfield)
Michaela Staniford (Wasps)
Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester)
Amy Turner (Richmond)
Kay Wilson (Bristol)