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Hunter returns as England plot title defence

Hunter returns as England plot title defence

Captain Sarah Hunter is back from a long-term injury lay-off to lead England in their defence of the Women’s Six Nations title, as head coach Simon Middleton revealed his 38-player squad.

Hunter has been nursing a neural injury in her hand, while a hamstring strain ruled her out of the 54-0 win against Italy that cemented England’s 2020 Grand Slam in November.

Hunter is one of eight players to return after injury, with Hannah Botterman, Bryony Cleall, Vicky Fleetwood, Sarah McKenna, Zoe Aldcroft, Ellena Perry and Lydia Thompson also back fit.

Loughborough Lightning’s Cath O’Donnell could be set for her first international action since July 2019, while Emily Robinson has received her first call-up.

England begin their title defence against Scotland at Castle Park in Doncaster next weekend, while Italy also join them in Pool A before a third match on Super Saturday Finals Day against the team that finishes in the corresponding position in Pool B.

“From a performance point of view we’ve been training really hard for a few months now,” Middleton said.

“We have a lot of evidence from training to say we’ve raised our intensity and physicality whilst at the same time developing our ability to execute accurately and make good decisions under the pressure that comes with that type of intensive pressure training, that’s what we want to see when we go into the Scotland game. We want a high tempo, high energy game with quality play off the back of it.

“We have named a wider squad than usual and are able to bring in a number of development players from the pathway.

“With the pathway being impacted by the pandemic, we saw an opportunity to help support the development of young players, bringing them into senior camps which was a win-win all round and there’s every chance we could see those players feature over the course of the games.”

Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury, 20 caps)
Sarah Beckett (Harlequins Women, 20 caps)
Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women, 20 caps)
Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Women, 20 caps)
Bryony Cleall (Saracens Women, 1 cap)
Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women, 43 caps)
Amy Cokayne (Harlequins Women, 53 caps)
Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Women, 56 caps)
Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 28 caps)
Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens Women, 76 caps)
Detysha Harper (Loughborough Lightning, 3 caps)
Sarah Hunter (C; Loughborough Lightning 123 caps)
Flo Long (Worcester Warriors Women, 0 caps)*
Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors Women, 40 caps)
Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps FC Ladies, 58 caps)
Maud Muir (Wasps FC Ladies, 0 caps)*
Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning, 16 caps)
Marlie Packer (Saracens Women, 74 caps)
Ellena Perry (Gloucester-Hartpury, 10 caps)
Emily Robinson (Harlequins Women, 0 caps)
Abbie Ward (Harlequins Women, 45 caps)

Jess Breach (Harlequins Women, 15 caps)
Merryn Doidge (Exeter Chiefs Women, 0 caps)*
Abby Dow (Wasps FC Ladies, 15 caps)
Ellie Green (Harlequins Women, 0 caps)*
Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women, 27 caps)
Megan Jones (Wasps FC Ladies, 10 caps)
Ellie Kildunne (Wasps FC Ladies, 11 caps)
Claudia MacDonald (Wasps FC Ladies, 12 caps)
Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women, 32 caps)
Amber Reed (Bristol Bears Women, 58 caps)
Leanne Riley (Harlequins Women, 40 caps)
Flo Robinson (Exeter Chiefs, 0 caps)*
Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 3 caps)
Emily Scarratt (VC; Loughborough Lighting, 92 caps)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester Warriors, 46 caps)
Lagi Tuima (Harlequins Women, 6 caps)
Beth Wilcock (Harlequins Women, 0 caps)*

*Denotes development players