Ten tries to kick off the competition but 10 changes for England’s second match of the Women’s World Cup against Italy – the head coach, Simon Middleton, proving as good as his word after pledging to rotate his squad before the knockout stages.
Emily Scarratt comes into the side at outside-centre and assumes the captaincy with Sarah Hunter dropping to the bench, while four of the five players who did not feature at all against Spain last Wednesday – the lock Tamara Taylor, the scrum-half, Natasha Hunt, the flanker Marlie Packer and the livewire wing, Amy Wilson-Hardy – come straight into the starting lineup.
The hooker, Vicky Fleetwood, is the only player still to miss out – she only arrived in Dublin on Saturday because of a recent knee injury – but Middleton’s message is clear with Katy Mclean, the star performer in the 56-5 opening victory against Spain, also dropping to the bench for the Pool B match. “We have options available to us in terms of selection and running different combinations,” said Middleton.
“We want to take full advantage of the depth, talent and experience in the squad. Our aim is to continually build and improve on performance; the team have recovered well and have been working hard over the past two days to ensure we are fully prepared for the next challenge.”
The other five changes to the starting XV see Alex Matthews come in at No8 in place of Hunter and Amber Reed will start at fly-half, while Rochelle Clark is part of a new-look front-row and wins her 126th cap. Amy Cokayne and Justine Lucas get the nod at hooker and tighthead respectively. Izzy Noel-Smith, who moves from openside flanker to the blindside, is among the five to keep their places, along with Rachel Burford at No12, the second-row Zoe Aldcroft, Lydia Thompson on the right wing and the full-back Danielle Waterman.
In total there are seven survivors from the side that defeated Italy 29-15 during this year’s Six Nations, recovering from conceding an early try to Sofia Stefan. “We are expecting a tough and physical encounter,” Middleton added. “Italy have caused us plenty of problems in the past and are an incredibly talented side.”
Middleton has made no secret of the fact that he wants to keep changing his side during the pool stages – Italy lost to the USA on the opening day and England are expected to claim another comfortable victory on Sunday. Indeed, Mclean hinted after victory over Spain that Middleton’s differing starting lineups have been chosen for some time as he sets about preparing the defending champions for the latter stages of the competition in Belfast.
“The biggest message to us is that this is a 28-strong effort,” said Mclean. “And to be honest, playing five games in a World Cup, you’re going to have to because no one can be at their best all the way through. We know the turnaround and we know the order of games. It’s about making sure the recovery is good, everybody is ready to go. And making sure we’re very smart in our actions.”
In Pool A, the Wales head coach, Rowland Phillips, has made two changes to the side that lost 44-12 to New Zealand for Sunday’s clash with Canada. Things get no easier for Phillips’ side with Canada, losing finalists three years ago, dispatching Hong Kong 98-0 in their first match. “We’ll be looking to cut out the unforced errors against Canada, who are a well-organised, strong and very athletic side,” said Phillips, who has brought in Sian Moore at scrum-half and Jess Kavanagh-Williams on the wing.
“We’ve spoken a lot about taking positives out of the game against New Zealand, and that’s something we’ve been working on. As soon as we came off the pitch on Wednesday we started looking at what we needed to do to challenge what is clearly a very good Canada side”
England side to face Italy: D Waterman; L Thompson, E Scarratt (capt), R Burford, A Wilson-Hardy; A Reed, N Hunt; R Clark, A Cokayne, J Lucas, T Taylor, Z Aldcroft, I Noel-Smith, M Packer, A Matthews. Replacements: H Kerr, V Cornborough, P Cleall, H Millar-Mills, S Hunter, LT Mason, K Mclean, M Jones