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Trio return as England name three uncapped players in Women's Six Nations squad

By Martyn Thomas
Abbie Ward of England arrives ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2021 Final match between New Zealand and England at Eden Park on November 12, 2022 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters - World Rugby/World Rugby via Getty Images)

John Mitchell has named three uncapped players in his first Women’s Six Nations squad as England coach.

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Forwards Maddie Feaunati and Lizzie Hanlon have been rewarded for their form with Exeter Chiefs with a place in the 35-player squad, as has Trailfinders Women winger Vicky Laflin.

Leeds-born flanker Feaunati is the daughter of former Samoa number eight Issac Feaunati and had been included in the Hurricanes Poua squad for Super Rugby Aupiki 2024 prior to her Red Roses call-up.

Prop Hanlon has been an ever-present for third-placed Chiefs in this season’s Premiership Women’s Rugby (PWR), while Laflin has scored four tries in Trailfinders’ first campaign in the top flight.

Mitchell is also able to welcome back a trio of experienced players, Zoe Harrison, Emily Scarratt and Abbie Ward ahead of a tournament that the defending champions will start as overwhelming favourites.

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Neither Harrison, Scarratt nor Ward have been included in a tournament squad since the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2021, which ended in final heartbreak for the Red Roses as they lost to hosts New Zealand in November 2022.

Saracens centre Sophie Bridger, meanwhile, has been called up to a Six Nations squad for the first time and there is also room for her club-mate Sydney Gregson who won the last of her three Test caps in 2015.

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Marlie Packer will once again captain the squad, having led the Red Roses to a Six Nations Grand Slam and the inaugural WXV 1 title in her first year in the role. Packer is one cap away from becoming a Test centurion.

Sarah Bern, Nancy McGillivray and Claudia MacDonald have been ruled out of the tournament through injury – the latter having picked up another neck injury – while the sidelined Katie Buchanan could regain fitness before the end of the Championship. Maisy Allen, Delaney Burns, Lilli Ives Campion and Liz Crake will come into England’s training camp this week as cover.

The squad named by Mitchell on Monday has a combined total of 1,109 caps and contains 19 forwards and 16 backs.

“The Six Nations is an awesome tournament and we have named squad where competition for a place in the matchday 23 exists in every position,” Mitchell said.

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“The girls are showing signs of building good habits when they come into camp and bring with them a great attitude and fantastic energy, which follows on from the commitment they show to their club week on week.

“The Red Roses have excelled in this tournament for a long time. There is a hunger to stay the best, but we must earn the right to win Test matches. We are focused on improving performance and putting teams under more pressure to create a variety of scoring opportunities.

“There is a great excitement around the group, and we are relishing the challenge of the next seven weeks.”

England will begin their title defence against Italy in Parma on 24 March before hosting Wales at Ashton Gate six days later.

Scotland host the Red Roses at Hive Stadium on 13 April before they return to Twickenham to take on Ireland seven days later. Their Championship campaign comes to a close at Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux, against 2023 runners-up France.

England squad:

Forwards: Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), Lark Atkin-Davies (Bristol Bears), Sarah Beckett (Gloucester-Hartpury), Hannah Botterman (Bristol Bears), Mackenzie Carson (Gloucester-Hartpury), Poppy Cleall (Saracens), Kelsey Clifford (Saracens), Amy Cokayne (Leicester Tigers), Maddie Feaunati (Exeter Chiefs), Rosie Galligan (Saracens), Lizzie Hanlon (Exeter Chiefs), Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), Alex Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury), Maud Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury), Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), Marlie Packer (Saracens), Connie Powell (Harlequins), Morwenna Talling (Sale Sharks), Abbie Ward (Bristol Bears).

Backs: Holly Aitchison (Bristol Bears), Sophie Bridger (Saracens), Jess Breach (Saracens), Abby Dow (Trailfinders Women), Sydney Gregson (Saracens), Zoe Harrison (Saracens), Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury), Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury), Megan Jones (Leicester Tigers), Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins), Vicky Laflin (Trailfinders Women), Lucy Packer (Harlequins), Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning), Emily Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning), Emma Sing (Gloucester-Hartpury), Ella Wyrwas (Saracens).

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Flankly 11 hours ago
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The Bok kryptonite is complacency. How did they lose to Japan in 2015, or to Italy in 2016? There are plenty of less dramatic examples. They often boil down to the Boks dialing back their focus and intensity, presuming they can win with less than 100% commitment. This can be true of most teams, but there is a reason that the Boks are prone to it. It boils down to the Bok game plan being predicated on intensity. The game plan works because of the relentless and suffocating pressure that they apply. They don’t allow the opponent to control the game, and they pounce on any mistake. It works fantastically, but it is extremely demanding on the Bok players to pull it off. And the problem is that it stops working if you execute at anything less than full throttle. Complacency kills the Boks because it can lead to them playing at 97% and getting embarrassed. So the Bulls/Leinster result is dangerous. It’s exactly what is needed to introduce that hint of over-confidence. Rassie needs to remind the team of the RWC pool game, and of the fact that Ireland have won 8 of the 12 games between the teams in the last 20 years. And of course the Leinster result also means that Ireland have a point to prove. Comments like “a club team beating a test team” will be pasted on the changing room walls. They will be out to prove that the result of the RWC game truly reflects the pecking order between the teams. The Boks can win these games, but, as always, they need to avoid the kryptonite.

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