England have suffered a major blow ahead of the Women’s Six Nations with fly-half Zoe Harrison ruled out with a torn ACL.
Harrison established herself as Simon Middleton’s first-choice ten during 2022, but The Independent understands she could now miss the next nine months after undergoing successful surgery on the knee injury.
The 24-year-old, who started the World Cup final in November, was taken off on a stretcher during Saracens’ Premier 15s win against Harlequins on 18 February.
Middleton, who will step down as head coach after the campaign, will name his final Red Roses squad in the role at 1pm on Thursday at Twickenham.
A number of other potential absentees could prompt a fresher-looking squad as England begin a new World Cup cycle, with Middleton possibly facing a quandary in midfield.
Loughborough Lightning playmaker Helena Rowland has not played since suffering a serious ankle injury in the World Cup semi-final against Canada, while centres Holly Aitchison and Emily Scarratt, who have both previously covered fly-half, have not featured recently for their clubs.
There may also be changes at scrum half, which could see a return to the fold for Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt. Hunt has responded to her controversial omission from the travelling party to New Zealand for the World Cup by producing a superlative season, powering Gloucester-Hartpury’s development into Premier 15s contenders.
Long-time captain Sarah Hunter has indicated that this could be her final Six Nations, while lock Abbie Ward, a potential successor to the number eight as England skipper, recently announced her pregnancy.
Meanwhile, recruitment for Middleton’s successor is ongoing. The job was recently advertised on LinkedIn - while the Rugby Football Union (RFU) had been succession planning, the union is understood to have been keen to ensure that they had considered potential candidates not previously identified.
Louis Deacon, currently forwards coach, is thought to be a contender for the role having committed to the Red Roses programme through to 2025, while Worcester’s Jo Yapp, Exeter’s Susie Appleby and Giselle Mather, now director of women’s rugby at Ealing, are among those who could step up to take on the England role from the domestic game.
Middleton’s other senior assistant, backs coach Scott Bemand, will depart at the conclusion of the 2023 Women’s Six Nations campaign.
England begin their championship against Scotland in Newcastle on 25 March, and conclude their Six Nations against France as Twickenham hosts a standalone England Women’s fixture for the first time on 29 April.