Women’s Six Nations winners England have named their squad to battle it out with Italy to claim a second-consecutive Grand Slam.
Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton welcomes back Harlequins lock Abbie Ward and Saracens flanker Marlie Packer back into the fold. The pair boast a combined tally of 113 England caps but have not featured in 2020 due to lengthy injury lay-offs.
The return of Packer to the back row minimises the loss of captain Sarah Hunter to a hamstring injury. Middleton is now likely to pick one of Poppy Cleall, Sarah Beckett, Harriet Millar-Mills or Morwenna Talling at No.8, as vice-captain Emily Scarratt takes on the leadership role.
Talling could make her England debut in Italy and follow in the footsteps of Loughborough Lightning teammate Detysha Harper, who earned her first cap in the 27-0 win over Ireland back in February.
Follow Lightning player Helena Rowland is also selected as one of the form players in the Allianz Premier 15s, along with Wasps wing Ellie Kildunne.
The departure of forwards coach Richard Blaze to Wasps men’s team in April has been addressed. Former Leeds Carnegie hooker and Darlington Mowden Park coach Mark Luffman joins Middleton’s staff.
Middleton said: “We’re really looking forward to our final Six Nations game against Italy where we’re targeting the Grand Slam.
“We’ve had a number of short camps in recent weeks which have given us an opportunity to work with lots of players.
“We’re naturally disappointed Sarah Hunter is ruled out but we feel it’s best she sits out of this one in order to recover properly. We have a big year ahead and must play the long game.
“Morwenna Talling is someone who has been in and around the squad over the last season. She’s a high intensity player and fits with exactly how we want to play.
“The players who have returned from sevens have done exceptionally well in the opening rounds of the Allianz Premier 15s and we’re looking forward to seeing how Ellie, Alex and Helena fare this week.
“Having Abbie Ward and Marlie Packer back is a huge plus for us. They’re vitally experienced and talented players.
“It’s great to be preparing for a match again and we can’t wait to take to the field.”