England opened their Women’s Six Nations campaign with a comfortable 52-10 victory over Scotland at Castle Park.
It was a win that paves the way for England to book a spot in the final if they are to beat Italy in Parma at the weekend. It remains to be seen whether coach Simon Middleton picks a team with the future – and next year’s World Cup – in mind, or his strongest XV as the Red Roses bid for silverware in this month’s revamped Six Nations.
Will Middleton continue with Saturday’s half-back pairing? And who will start at No 8? We look at some of the talking points following England’s eight-try victory in Doncaster…
Hunter will have to fight for her place
Sarah Hunter was named in Middleton’s Six Nations squad last month but missed the opening-round win due to injury.
The England captain offers a wealth of experience thanks to her 123 caps, but if she wants the No 8 jersey back she’ll need to fight for it after Poppy Cleall stole the show at Castle Park.
The Saracens loose forward had a hand in two tries, scored one of her own, and made 115 metres from 19 carries to run Scotland ragged, with Middleton saying after the game that there are few players around the world better than Cleall.
Thanks for all your support 🌹 we can be better then some of that. Privilege to take the field with these players 🔥 #wrugby #rugby pic.twitter.com/0sSQhtwMk2
“They would have to be a pretty good player to be better than her,” said Middleton.
“I think her all-around game is pretty sensational and the impact she consistently has in games suggests so [she’s the best player in the world right now].”
If Hunter is fully fit for the Italy game, Middleton will have his hands full trying to balance having both players in the team.
Half-back depth continues to grow
England’s best strength in depth is arguably at half-back, with Helena Rowland given the nod to start in the No 10 jersey as England began life without the retired Katy Daley-Mclean, while Leanne Riley started at scrum-half.
Rowland and Riley both scored tries against Scotland to showcase their credentials, but there are others waiting in line to do the same.
Meg Jones, who has been carving it up at fly-half in the Premier 15s, was brought on for Emily Scarratt rather than Rowland, so we did not get a proper look at how she would run things at first receiver for England, but she could do some damage against Italy if given the reins in Parma.
With Saracens’ Zoe Harrison also waiting in the wings, and Harlequins’ Ellie Green selected in the squad as a development player, Middleton has plenty of exciting options at his disposal.
At scrum-half, Claudia MacDonald – who has not had much recent game time for Wasps in the Premier 15s – showed no signs of rustiness when she replaced Riley in the second half on Saturday. With Natasha Hunt out of the championship with an ankle injury, the battle between MacDonald and Riley for the starting No 9 jersey will keep both players firing on all cylinders throughout the campaign.
Breach a future great
Jess Breach went into this year’s Six Nations with 24 tries in 15 appearances for the Red Roses, and she wasted no time adding to that tally in Doncaster.
The winger took a cross-field kick from Rowland late in the first half and danced past the covering Scotland defence before stepping inside Harlequins team-mate Chloe Rollie for the pick of England’s eight tries.
A post shared by Jess Breach (@jessbreach97)
The speedster topped the charts for metres made by any player at Castle Park and beat eight defenders with ball in hand as well as making three clean breaks.
In Breach England have a player who, if she stays fit, will no doubt end up being her country’s most prolific try scorer of all time.
She was the youngest and least experienced of the back three to take the field for England in Doncaster, but has already become a leader in what is an increasingly lethal England backline.
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