We analyse big selection decisions Red Roses coach Simon Middleton has to make
How the England Women’s Six Nations squad could look
Middleton will only be able to take a squad of 30 to New Zealand this autumn. Some players who would start in other teams may miss the tournament all together.
The Women’s Six Nations, which starts on 26 March, is the perfect tournament for the coaches to experiment with line-ups and player positions. But with the quality in the Allianz Premier 15s it will be difficult for Middleton to choose a squad of 38.
In this piece on how the England Women’s Six Nations squad could look, we’ll chat through some of the major selection dilemmas and then list the 38 who we believe will be selected.
Let’s start with one of the biggest talking points in English women’s rugby…
The Scarratt question
Emily Scarratt has been a stalwart for England but she hasn’t played since breaking her leg in the opening round of the 2021-22 Premier 15s season.
Rugby World understands she is targeting a return so she can feature in the Six Nations. However, Scarratt hasn’t yet been back in action for club Loughborough Lightning. The tournament is five weeks away, the question mark over her competing for the Red Roses is still present.
So who would replace her in the squad? Scarratt wasn’t available for the autumn campaign and they didn’t seem to miss her. Holly Aitchison stepped into her role for the record New Zealand wins with Lagi Tuima also filling the 13 shirt. The Red Roses extended their unbeaten run and looked incredibly dangerous in the process.
If Scarratt is once again absent for all or part the Six Nations it gives Aitchison and Tuima an opportunity to start nailing down their place in the team. There’s no doubt Scarratt will be at the World Cup. But if she features in the Six Nations it could limit the other two stars’ playing time and therefore their window to prove why they should be in New Zealand in September.
And so while it may be a controversial opinion, if Scarratt is available why not start her on the bench? Give the younger stars their chance and Scarratt will still be given international game time ahead of the World Cup. That’s my answer to the Scarratt question.
Helena Rowland and Zoe Harrison are the two front-runners to be named at fly-half. Everyone has been talking about which one will step into the shoes of Katy Daley-Mclean, who retired from international duty in 2020. But the answer to that question is simple – both of them.
They are capable of playing in the same team, with Rowland and Harrison able to play in the centre. The pair also bring something different to the No 10 role with Rowland having more of a running game and Harrison more tactical with her kicks.
Although Harrison is typically benched if Rowland is at fly-half, they are both integral to the team as they can tackle different games in different ways.
So there’s no need to name an out-and-out ten. I know I’d feel much more confident in the World Cup squad knowing England have all of their bases covered with both getting game time in the shirt during this Six Nations.
No 8 and captaincy conundrum
The No 8 shirt was worn by both Sarah Hunter and Poppy Cleall in the autumn campaign – and they both also captained the side, as did Zoe Aldcroft. The pair can be named in he same line-up, with both able to play blindside and Cleall also a lock option. But Cleall and Hunter’s preferred position is at No 8.
It’s tricky to decide who should take the shirt because their playing ability isn’t all that’s in question, it’s the captaincy too. Before we delve further, both players are exceptional but they have different qualities, which makes the decision a difficult one.
Cleall, for me, is the better player. She is hitting her prime and she rarely has a poor performance for club or country. However, Hunter is the better leader. She can steer the ship if England have been wobbled and can make the right decisions at crucial moments. This is why the Six Nations is the perfect time to experiment.
The official England captain for the Six Nations should be named as Hunter. But Middleton should play a combination throughout the tournament to see what works. When Hunter is named on the bench, the captaincy can be handed to Cleall or Scarratt (if she’s available).
We can all have a good guess that both Hunter and Cleall will be at the World Cup and the Six Nations is the perfect time to hammer out the best combination.
How the England Women’s Six Nations squad could look
Zoe Aldcroft, Sarah Beckett, Sarah Bern, Hannah Botterman, Shaunagh Brown, Bryony Cleall, Poppy Cleall, Amy Cokayne, Vickii Cornborough, Lark Davies, Vicky Fleetwood, Detysha Harper, Sarah Hunter (captain), Sadia Kabeya, Flo Long, Alex Matthews, Maud Muir, Harriet Millar-Mills, Abbie Ward.
Holly Aitchison, Jess Breach, Heather Cowell, Merryn Doidge, Abby Dow, Zoe Harrison, Ellie Green, Leanne Infante, Ellie Kildunne, Claudia MacDonald, Lucy Packer, Amber Reed, Flo Robinson, Helena Rowland, Emily Scarratt, Lydia Thompson, Lagi Tuima, Ella Wyrwas.
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