Red Roses team to face Scotland: Our writers select their 23s – now pick yours

·5-min read
Sarah Hunter - Our writers pick their Red Roses teams to face Scotland – now pick yours - Getty Images/Dan Mullan
Sarah Hunter - Our writers pick their Red Roses teams to face Scotland – now pick yours - Getty Images/Dan Mullan

England open their Women’s Six Nations campaign against Scotland on Saturday afternoon at Kingston Park in what is a period of transition for the Red Roses after their disappointing World Cup final defeat by New Zealand last year.

Head coach Simon Middleton is leaving his role at the end of the Six Nations, long-time captain Sarah Hunter is retiring after this first match and regular fly-half Zoe Harrison will miss the championship having torn her anterior cruciate ligament.

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Helena Rowland will not return from injury until later in the Six Nations while Telegraph Sport understands Ellie Kildunne and Alex Matthews are also set to miss the Scotland match.

So who should Simon Middleton pick as his side bid for a fifth successive title? Here our writers select their match-day 23s.

Fiona Tomas

Without Abbie Ward and Vickii Cornborough, England’s pack will not be the weapon it was at the World Cup against a fired-up Scottish outfit that is now reaping the fruits of professionalism, so now is the time to incorporate more of a sweeping attacking mindset.

Claudia MacDonald has looked increasingly at home on the wing and slots into a tenacious back three primed for first-phase play that will be mobilised by Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt.

The scrum-half's experience, along with that of Amber Reed, will help cushion Holly Aitchison as the Saracen steps up at fly-half in light of Zoe Harrison’s absence.

Sarah Hunter, England Rugby’s longest and greatest ever servant, will have a largely ceremonial role to play as she takes to the field one last time.

Charlie Morgan

It is a reflection of the depth that has been gradually built by Simon Middleton that England can begin a Six Nations, and a new World Cup cycle, with a spate of absences and yet still surround newer faces with immense experience.

The hope is that those who emerged and established themselves over the last cycle, such as Tatyana Heard, Rosie Galligan and Sadia Kabeya, can kick on and inspire the team to new heights.

The all-action Kabeya can be a star of the world game. Natasha Hunt, one suspects, will be itching to impress at scrum-half.

Injuries make the back-line selection tricky, so I have cut and pasted the 10-12-15 spine from Saracens to tap into some existing cohesion before Ellie Kildunne and Helena Rowland return. Sarah Hunter will have an emotional send-off from the bench.

Maggie Alphonsi

Amber Reed is normally an inside-centre but with Zoe Harrison and Helena Rowland out, she is a safe pair of hands who can step up to the plate and control the back-line. Leanne Infante is back fit and is raring to go, and she would work well with Reed at fly-half.

With Abbie Ward unavailable, Rosie Galligan is the natural next option. She has a presence in the lineout and is great in the loose.

I expect Marlie Packer to play a big leadership role on the day and step up as captain at some point during the match. And what a send-off for Sarah Hunter – one that is deserved for the service she has given to the game.

Jake Goodwill

If anyone deserves a send-off match, it is Sarah Hunter. But I am just not sure that any player, no matter how big a contribution to the sport, should be picked for just one match at the start of a new tournament before retirement.

England are better served by giving minutes to those who will be at the World Cup in 2025, and this back row is wonderfully balanced.

With injuries to Zoe Harrison and no Emily Scarratt, the midfield selection is far from straightforward. It will be exciting to see how Holly Aitchison goes at fly-half at international level and the centres are packed with power.

Lagi Tuima’s game needs plenty of refinement but she has the potential to be a game-changing presence. Natasha Hunt’s fine form deserves to be rewarded with a start.

Sarah Mockford

Injuries make the midfield selection the most challenging. While Tatyana Heard is primarily a 12, I think she can make an impact in that wider channel and help unleash a dangerous back three by getting over the gain-line. Sarah McKenna provides Holly Aitchison with a sense of familiarity in a playmaking 10-12 combination.

Up front, Lark Davies tops the try-scoring charts in the Premier 15s and edges the battle for the No 2 shirt over Amy Cokayne.

Expect Marlie Packer and Sadia Kabeya to dominate the breakdown, and for Sarah Hunter to deliver a typically consistent performance as she has done throughout her career.

Ben Coles

Tricky to know whether to start Sarah Hunter or bring her off the bench, but it seems more fitting to allow her a proper send-off by being replaced in the second half to take in the applause.

To finish a remarkable career close to home is a fitting farewell for a superb player for England over such a long period.

Natasha Hunt’s recall is fascinating but inevitable after her brilliant form, producing a bucket load of assists, but the rest of the back-line is a little fractured with those injuries to Zoe Harrison and Emily Scarratt. Holly Aitchison at fly-half will be interesting. Sadia Kabeya will be box office.

Have your say

Our writers have selected who they think Simon Middleton should choose to take on Scotland in their Six Nations opener, but do you agree? Pick who you would like to see run out at Kingston Park by clicking on each position and join the debate in the comments below: