W6N 2022: England Team Preview

By: Jackie Finlan, The Rugby Breakdown

England is the women’s rugby Six Nations three-time reigning champion, and the Red Roses have only fortified their ranks since hoisting the 2021 trophy. The squad followed with five international test wins against France, New Zealand twice, Canada and the U.S., and enters the TikTok Women’s Six Nations on an 18-game winning streak.

“Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the most competitive squad I have had to manage,” England women’s rugby team head coach Simon Middleton told Women’s Six Nations.

During the abbreviated 2021 Women’s Six Nations championship, England beat Scotland 52-10 and Italy 67-3 in the pool rounds, then outlasted France 10-6 in the title bout. A week later, the Red Roses traveled to Lille for another slugfest, which regrettably was called after 62 minutes for floodlights failure. Nonetheless, that was enough time for the game to count, and England retained its No. 1 World Rugby ranking with a 17-15 win.

England returned to test rugby in late October and hosted New Zealand for back-to-back wins: 43-12 on Oct. 31 and then 56-15 on Nov. 7. The subsequent two Saturdays brought victories against Canada (51-12) and the USA (89-0). Middleton closed out 2021 as World Rugby Coach of the Year - the first time a women’s coach has won the award.

"I don't think we've moved just our game on but I think we've moved the women's game on in the last month," Middleton reflected on the fall tests. "We've shown what is possible if you back the girls, if you provide the resources and put them in the right environment, they are just fantastic players.

"Full credit to them; you have to take the opportunities that are put in front of you,” Middleton continued. “[T]he RFU have backed us, and we have taken the opportunity."

“Without a shadow of a doubt, this is the most competitive squad I have had to manage,” -England head coach Simon Middleton

All of the 40 players selected to the England women’s rugby Six Nations squad compete in the professional Allianz Premier 15s league. The Harlequins (10) and Saracens (9) account for nearly half the squad, while Loughborough (6), Wasps (5), Bristol (4), Gloucester-Hartpury (4) and Worcester (2) are all represented. Of the 17 backs, the average age is 26 and average caps is 28. Among the 23 forwards, the average age is 27 with 38 caps.

“So we have got great strength in depth with a lot of players to come back,” Middleton told Women’s Six Nations. “We have got some great young talent, but it is massively underpinned by senior players who are not going to give their shirts up and who are setting the standards in training.

“For us, that is absolutely brilliant,” he added. “That is why Sarah [Hunter] is still the captain and is being picked for England.” Thirty-six-year-old Hunter has 130 caps and anchors the squad from No. 8 - in fact, the back row includes five players with 50+ international test appearances. Conversely, there are six players with five or fewer caps, including hooker May Campbell, who’s looking to debut.

The backs welcome back scrumhalf Natasha Hunt and center Emily Scarratt, both of whom are recovering from injury. Scarratt very likely would have crossed 100 caps last fall if it wasn’t for a broken leg in the opening round of the Premier 15s. Emma Sing and Ella Wyrwas will look for their first caps this season.

The England women’s rugby team begins the 2022 tournament on March 26 in Scotland, and faces a team that is coming off a Rugby World Cup-qualifying campaign.

“We’re massively respectful of them and we know how tough it’ll be if you’re not on your game,” Middleton said of Scotland. “We play very well against Scotland and the last few matches haven’t reflected how Scotland have played but have reflected how well we’ve played. We’ve been so up for it and everything’s pointing towards it being a great contest this year.”

The tournament continues through April 30 - Super Saturday - and England ends with Le Crunch in France. "This is our last competitive tournament before we go into the World Cup so it’s an opportunity for players to put their best foot forward,” Middleton commented on the additional weight of the championship.

“We’ve got a summer’s preparation to go but ultimately how people perform on the biggest stages is critical to us. We’re really excited and can’t wait to get started.”

Five of the six women’s rugby Six Nations teams will be competing in the Rugby World Cup this fall, and that lure at the end of the year will intensify the stakes this spring.

FIXTURES AND RESULTS

26 March
England 57 - Scotland 5

3 April
England 74 - Italy 0

9 April - 16:45
England 58 - Wales 5

24 April - 12 pm
England v Ireland

30 April - 14:15
England v France 

ENGLAND SQUAD

Name (Age as of March 26, 2022/Club/Position/Caps)

BACKS (17)

Holly Aitchison (25/Saracens/Center/4)
Jess Breach (24/Harlequins/Wing/19)
Heather Cowell (26/Harlequins/Wing/2)
Abby Dow (26/Wasps/Wing/22)
Zoe Harrison (23/Saracens/Flyhalf/34)
Natasha Hunt (33/Gloucester-Hartpury/Scrumhalf/55)
Leanne Infante (28/Bristol Bears/Scrumhalf/48)
Ellie Kildunne (22/Harlequins/Fullback/18)
Sarah McKenna (33/Saracens/Fullback/39)
Lucy Packer (22/Harlequins/Scrumhalf/1)
Amber Reed (30/Bristol Bears/Center/58)
Helena Rowland (22/Loughborough Lightning/Flyhalf/10)
Emily Scarratt (32/Loughborough Lighting/Center/96)
Emma Sing (21/Gloucester-Hartpury/Fullback/Uncapped)
Lydia Thompson (30/Worcester Warriors/Wing/50)
Lagi Tuima (23/Harlequins/Center/12)
Ella Wyrwas (23/Saracens/Scrumhalf/Uncapped)

FORWARDS (23)

Zoe Aldcroft (25/Gloucester-Hartpury/Lock/28)
Sarah Beckett (23/Harlequins/Back row/22)
Sarah Bern (24/Bristol Bears/Prop/40)
Hannah Botterman (22/Saracens/Prop/26)
Shaunagh Brown (32/Harlequins/Prop/24)
Rowena Burnfield (33/Wasps/Lock/50)
May Campbell (25/Saracens/Hooker/Uncapped)
Bryony Cleall (29/Wasps/Prop/5)
Poppy Cleall (29/Saracens/Back row/50)
Amy Cokayne (25/Harlequins/Hooker/60)
Vickii Cornborough (32/Harlequins/Prop/64)
Lark Davies (27/Loughborough Lightning/Hooker/35)
Vicky Fleetwood (31/Saracens/Back row/79)
Rosie Galligan (23/Harlequins/Lock/1)
Detysha Harper (23/Loughborough Lightning/Prop/5)
Sarah Hunter (36/Loughborough Lightning/Back row/130)
Sadia Kabeya (20/Loughborough Lightning/Back row/2)
Alex Matthews (28/Worcester Warriors/Back row/45)
Harriet Millar-Mills (30/Wasps/Back row/66)
Maud Muir (20/Wasps FC/Prop/4)
Marlie Packer (32/Saracens/Back row/79)
Connie Powell (21/Gloucester-Hartpury/Hooker/1)
Abbie Ward (28/Bristol Bears/Lock/50)

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