England Women head coach Simon Middleton has announced the team to play France in this weekend’s Six Nations final at Twickenham Stoop.
Emily Scarratt will lead the side as captain Sarah Hunter is named amongst the replacements for the tournament’s climax.
The Red Roses recorded wins over Scotland and Italy to advance to the final where Les Bleues await.
Middleton’s side have held the upper hand in the last six meetings between the two best teams in the northern hemisphere, including beating France home and away in a two-Test series last autumn after clinching the Six Nations title.
Hunter’s absence in the starting line-up comes after winning her 124th cap in the win against Italy, as Middleton has opted for a back row of Zoe Aldcroft, Marlie Packer and Poppy Cleall.
Abbie Ward returns to partner Cath O’Donnell in the second row, with the Wasps lock one of only two forwards to have started all matches in this year’s Six Nations – the other being loosehead prop Vickii Cornborough.
Fellow Harlequin Shaunagh Brown will pack down at tighthead with Lark Davies preferred at hooker over Amy Cokayne.
Zoe Harrison makes her first start of the tournament after being dropped from the team on the eve of their Six Nations opener against Scotland due to failing to fulfil the team’s COVID-19 monitoring process, which tracks the day’s events of each player in the England camp.
Helena Rowland keeps the No.10 shirt, as Harrison slots in at inside centre and Lagi Tuima is named as a replacement.
Middleton said: “We’ve had a fantastic three-and-a-half weeks training and a fully fit squad training all week which has been great.
“I’m really pleased with our development, fitness levels and robustness we are starting to develop.
“We have strength across the team and it was a tough selection.
“It was great to have Sarah Hunter back against Italy. 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 and anticipated after 13 months out. Sarah respects there are a lot of players in the back row and back five in great form at this point and that in games like this you need to be able to go for 80 minutes as a starter. She’s not quite there yet but it’s a challenge she’s more than up for.
“We’ve brought Marlie back in this week. Physicality at the breakdown will be imperative against France and amongst other things that’s what Marlie gives you. Marlie’s one of the best in the world in that area.
“Zoe and Helena together give us options we know will be important against France.
“Now we’ve got to go out and deliver a good performance in both halves of the game.
“That’s what it will take. France are a confident side and previous results are irrelevant.
“France play on confidence with a dangerous high tempo game with the ball in play so we’ve got to be on the metal and switched on. Of course, the best way of defending is to have the ball so our ability to retain possession in the right areas of the field will be imperative
“Our discipline will be essential, especially with the pace they have with their tap-and-gos.
“It will be a great final and we’re all really excited.
“We’ve seen a different format in the Six Nations which brings excitement as everything and everyone works towards that one big game and Saturday is that game.
“This is a big test to translate what we’re doing on the training field and one we will relish as a group.”
England team to play France in the 2021 Six Nations final
England: 15 Sarah McKenna, 14 Jess Breach, 13 Emily Scarratt (c), 12 Zoe Harrison, 11 Abby Dow, 10 Helena Rowland, 9 Leanne Riley; 1 Vickii Cornborough, 2 Lark Davies, 3 Shaunagh Brown, 4 Abbie Ward, Cath O’Donnell, 6 Zoe Aldcroft, 7 Marlie Packer, 8 Poppy Cleall
Replacements: 16 Amy Cokayne, 17 Detysha Harper, 18 Bryony Cleall, 19 Harriet Millar-Mills, 20 Sarah Hunter, 21 Claudia MacDonald, 22 Lagi Tuima, 23 Ellie Kildunne