England boss Simon Middleton has made eight changes as the Six Nations champions continue their 2021 title defence with Saturday’s trip to face Italy following last weekend’s comfortable 52-10 opening-round home win over Scotland in Doncaster.

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Three of the changes are in the backline where Ellie Kildunne comes in at full-back for Sarah McKenna, Megan Jones is in midfield for Lagi Tuima and with Jess Breach switching wings from left to right, Abby Dow steps up for Lydia Thompson.

In the pack, the headline switch is the Six Nations return of fit-again skipper Sarah Hunter who is set to win her 124th England cap and her first in 13 months following a lengthy injury lay-off. She takes the place of Poppy Cleall at No8 in a completely revamped back row.

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Vicky Fleetwood is at openside for Marlie Packer while Alex Matthews is at blindside. Last week’s No6 Zoe Aldcroft has switched to lock with Abbie Ward dropping out. In the front row, Amy Cokayne and Shaunagh Brown are back at hooker and tighthead respectively instead of Lark Davies and Bryony Cleall.

Prop Hannah Botterman could make her first England appearance of the season while Zoe Harrison is also among the Six Nations round two replacements.

Middleton said: “I was really pleased with aspects of our game against Scotland and thought we were outstanding for the majority of the first half. The frustrating part was that we got ourselves into a position where we wanted to be in the game but then didn’t kick on.

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“The ability to sustain a high level of performance for the majority if not all of the game is the thing we are working towards in training, so to put in a great 40 minutes and then not back that up in the second half was not what we wanted.

“We have looked to address the discipline issues such as the penalty count. In the past, we have prided ourselves on our discipline but defensively we are looking to play more on the edge and you can’t do that without walking a fine line, we have to make sure we are at the right side of it.

“This game in Italy also gives us an opportunity to look at some other combinations and we’ve decided to rotate the squad. We’re delighted to have Sarah Hunter back on the team. She loves playing for her country and has worked so hard to get back playing.”

ENGLAND (vs Italy, Saturday)
15. Ellie Kildunne (Wasps FC Ladies, 12 caps)
14. Jess Breach (Harlequins Women, 16 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning, 93 caps)
12. Megan Jones (Wasps FC Ladies, 11 caps)
11. Abby Dow (Wasps FC Ladies, 15 caps)
10. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 4 caps)
9. Leanne Riley (Harlequins Women, 41 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Women 57 caps)
2. Amy Cokayne (Harlequins Women, 54 caps)
3. Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Women, 21 caps)
4. Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury Women, 21 caps)
5. Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning, 16 caps)
6. Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors Women, 40 caps)
7. Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens Women, 77 caps)
8. Sarah Hunter (capt, Loughborough Lightning, 123 caps)
Replacements:
16. Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 29 caps)
17. Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women, 20 caps)
18. Bryony Cleall (Saracens Women, 2 caps)
19. Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps FC Ladies, 59 caps)
20. Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women, 44 caps)
21. Claudia MacDonald (Wasps FC Ladies, 13 caps)
22. Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women, 27 caps)
23. Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women, 33 caps)

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