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Six changes to England Women for Italy tie

Sarah Hunter
  • Sarah Hunter will return to the starting line-up for her 112th England cap
  • Head coach Simon Middleton has made six changes to his England side ahead of Italy clash
  • Leanne Riley and Kelly Smith also return to the XV to make their third starts of the tournament

Sarah Hunter will return to captain England Women as head coach Simon Middleton makes five personnel changes to his starting XV for Saturday’s crunch Women’s Six Nations match against Italy at Sandy Park.

The lock, who has made 111 appearances for the national side, is a welcome return for a Red Roses team looking to continue their 100% record.

Elsewhere, Leanne Riley and Kelly Smith will return as the starting scrum-half and left winger respectively as the duo make their third starts of the year.

The starting line-up will also include hooker Lark Davies, who was only selected as a replacement last time out, enter a front row including Vickii Cornborough and Sarah Bern.

Also rejoining the squad is Loughborough Lighting centre Emily Scarratt who missed the game against Wales due to injury – she will pair with Saracens’ Zoe Harrison.

Vicky Fleetwood’s return to full fitness also sees her being selected in the squad for the first time.

And in one positional switch, the head coach has opted to move Harlequins star Jess Breach to the right wing.

The rest of the team is unchanged, with the Catherine O’Donnell, Abbie Scott, Sarah Beckett and Marlie Packer making up the rest of the forwards.

Meanwhile, England can rely on the experience of fly-half mainstay Katy Daley-Mclean, who will be joined by Sarah McKenna in the backs.

Middleton said: “This is just as big a game for Italy as it is for us and they will be going into this match well-organised and energised.

“Having put in three strong performances so far we are confident but we want to keep improving and this weekend it will be about pushing ourselves to be as good as we can be; we need to deliver a comprehensive performance where we are disciplined in our attack.

“Having Emily Scarratt back in the side this weekend is huge for us and you only have to look at the quality of players named on the bench to see the strength and depth that we’ve developed within this squad.”

England Women have been in imperious form, recording huge wins against Ireland, France and Wales.

Their opponents are unbeaten this campaign, but lost 42-7 to the Red Roses last year and sit three points behind England in second place.

The Italians recorded an excellent 28-7 win over Scotland to kick off the Women’s Six Nations before a low-scoring 3-3 draw against Wales crushed any dreams of a Grand Slam.

However, having beaten Ireland at the death thanks to a winner from Giada Franco, they will be confident going into this fixture.

England Starting XV: 15. Sarah McKenna, 14. Jess Breach, 13. Emily Scarratt, 12. Zoe Harrison, 11. Kelly Smith, 10. Katy Daley-Mclean, 9. Leanne Riley, 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Sarah Bern, 4. Catherine O’Donnell, 5. Abbie Scott, 6. Sarah Beckett,  7. Marlie Packer, 8. Sarah Hunter (c)

Replacements: 16. Vicky Fleetwood, 17. Hannah Botterman, 18. Shaunagh Brown, 19. Poppy Cleall, 20. Jo Brown, 21. Natasha Hunt, 22. Rachael Burford, 23. Emily Scott