England face Scotland and Italy in Pool A; the condensed 2021 Women’s Six Nations takes place over four weekends after the coronavirus pandemic initially delayed the tournament; the Red Roses are the defending champions after winning a second straight Grand Slam in 2020
England captain Sarah Hunter is set to add to her 123 caps as the Red Roses look to defend their Six Nations title
Sarah Hunter returns to captain England Women for their Six Nations title defence after head coach Simon Middleton named a 38-player squad for the upcoming tournament.
England completed their second consecutive Grand Slam in November, with the 2020 edition hit by postponements and cancelled fixtures amid the coronavirus pandemic.
Hunter was absent with a hamstring injury as the Red Roses sealed their 16th Six Nations title against Italy, but she is back to lead the group for the 2021 tournament, which was delayed and then condensed due to Covid-19.
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England face Scotland at Castle Park in Doncaster for their opening Pool A game on April 3, and then travel to Italy a week later. Finals Day is on April 24.
The 2021 Women’s Six Nations format
The three-week competition starts on April 3 and features two pools, a change from the traditional eight-week round-robin format, with each nation playing home and away once with a view to playing the showdown between group winners on Finals Day on April 24.
The nations placing second and third will also clash with the team finishing in the same position from the other group on Finals Day.
Joining Hunter in the squad is Loughborough Lightning team-mate Cath O’Donnell, who is set for her first international appearance since July 2019.
Saracens quartet Hannah Botterman, Bryony Cleall, Vicky Fleetwood and Sarah McKenna all return after missing the autumn matches through injury, likewise Gloucester-Hartpury duo Zoe Aldcroft and Ellena Perry and Worcester Warriors’ Lydia Thompson.
Six development players have been included; front rowers Maud Muir and Flo Long, plus backs Ellie Green, Merryn Doidge, Beth Wilcock and Flo Robinson, while Flo’s sister Emily Robinson makes her first senior squad.
Sarah Bern (shoulder), Natasha Hunt (ankle), Laura Keates (ACL) and Morwenna Talling (ACL) are all out of the tournament due to injury.
Head coach Middleton said: “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.
“We’re pleased to have Alex Matthews, Helena Rowland and Megan Jones available given the crossover with the GB Sevens programme. They’ll be with us for varying degrees of the Six Nations and then continue their preparations with the GB set-up.
“This will be our first international since Katy Daley-Mclean’s retirement. It’ll be great to see how our young fly halves, Zoe Harrison and Helena Rowland steer the ship. We’ll have some new half back combinations and it will be interesting to see how they go.
“It feels like we’ve been training for a long time and I think the staff are as desperate for the games as the players are. The players play week-in week-out with the clubs but as a staff group we don’t get that release so it feels like we’ve been preparing forever. We’re all really looking forward to the games and getting into competition mode.”
After the tournament concludes, England are set travel to Lille to face France in a Women’s Six Nations exhibition game on April 30.
England Women’s 2021 Six Nations squad
- 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