Women’s Six Nations: England captain Sarah Hunter will start for first time in 13 months

Women’s Six Nations: England captain Sarah Hunter will start for first time in 13 months

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Sarah Hunter with the Women's Six Nations trophy
Sarah Hunter led England to a second successive Grand Slam in the 2020 Women’s Six Nations
Venue: Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, Parma Date: Saturday 10 April Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC iPlayer; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

England captain Sarah Hunter will return for the first time in 13 months as head coach Simon Middleton makes sweeping changes for Saturday’s Women’s Six Nations match in Italy.

Hunter – back in action after a neural injury and hamstring strain – is one of 10 alterations to the XV that started the 52-10 win against Scotland.

In the backs, Helena Rowland retains her place as England’s starting 10.

England will reach the Women’s Six Nations final with victory in Parma.

The competition is being played in a new format this year, with two pool games and a final, after being delayed because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“This game in Italy gives us an opportunity to look at some other combinations and we’ve decided to rotate the squad,” said Middleton, whose side will travel to New Zealand for the World Cup in 2022.

“We’re delighted to have Sarah Hunter back in the team. She loves playing for her country and has worked so hard to get back playing. “

Hunter’s return at number eight means last weekend’s player of the match Poppy Cleall is pushed to the bench.

The choice of Rowland at 10, with Zoe Harrison among the replacements, is significant as England continue their search for a starting fly-half following the retirement of Katy Daley-Mclean.

Harrison was left out of the matchday 23 against Scotland for a minor breach of coronavirus protocols.

Full-back Ellie Kildunne replaces Sarah McKenna to start for the back-to-back Grand Slam champions, while Jess Breach moves to the right wing to replace Lydia Thompson, who drops out of the 23 altogether.

Abby Dow returns on the left wing and Emily Scarratt, who captained the side against Scotland in Hunter’s absence, remains at outside centre.

Scarratt is joined by Meg Jones at 12 instead of Lagi Tuima, who does not make it into the matchday squad.

Amy Cokayne starts at hooker, pushing Lark Davies to the bench, while Shaunagh Brown starts at tight-head prop in place of Bryony Cleall.

Zoe Aldcroft moves from the back row to lock to replace Abbie Ward, with Ward out of the 23, while Alex Matthews comes in to fill the void left at flanker.

Vicky Fleetwood replaces Marlie Packer at open-side and prop Hannah Botterman, who returns to the squad following injury, could make her first England appearance of the season off the bench

England team to play Italy

England: Kildunne; Breach, Scarratt (vice-capt), Jones, Dow; Rowland, Riley; Cornborough, Cokayne, Brown, Aldcroft, O’Donnell, Matthews, Fleetwood, Hunter (capt).

Replacements: Davies, Botterman, B Cleall, Millar-Mills, Cleall, MacDonald, Harrison, McKenna.

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