Taking a guess at the Red Roses team to take on New Zealand
Tomorrow morning will see Simon Middleton name his Red Roses team for the first of the autumn internationals. The team take on the Black Ferns in Exeter and like any match between England and New Zealand it promises to be a spicy affair. Ahead of finding out who Simon names I had a little go at naming a team of my own… I wonder how wrong I will be?
Front Row: Vickii Cornborough, Amy Cokayne, Shaunagh Brown
I know Middleton is a man who places a lot of value in combinations, and I tend to agree. As such the chance to start a trio who play alongside each other week in-week out seems the obvious way to go. In Cornborough you’ve got one of the best technicians in the game, a scrummaging master with plenty of ability round the field. Brown is a ball carrying threat in heavy traffic and as for Cokayne, well she’s a special player who can do a bit of everything!
Second Row: Abbie Ward, Zoe Aldcroft
There are few players more adept at running their own lineout, or disrupting the oppositions, than Abbie Ward. She’s also a tackling machine with a ferocious work rate. That pairs well with Aldcroft, another player who will hit every ruck and make every tackle. She’s also a more than capable carrying threat.
Back Row: Alex Matthews, Marlie Packer, Sarah Hunter
There are flashier players in the squad, including some big names, but for the first of back-to-back games against the Black Ferns I’ve gone with Matthews at 6 for her engine, she’ll go and go, carrying and tackling with the same intensity for 90 minutes if required. Do I even need to explain why Marlie makes my starting 15? Okay then… she’s key for her ability to win turnovers, she loves a try and she never stops urging her teammates on. This will be a battle and she’s the sort of person you’d want at your side. Then there’s Sarah Hunter. Leader, talisman and a player who won’t be fazed by the occasion or the opposition. She’ll get her head down and push the team forward with every ounce of strength she has.
Half Backs: Claudia MacDonald, Zoe Harrison
Leanne Riley has been out injured for a while and with a lack of game time under her belt I’ve opted not to include her in this team. MacDonald is the obvious choice then for the 9 shirt. An attacking threat with lightning pace who opposition will need to keep a close eye on. She’s also taken on a leadership role at Wasps so it will be good to see her bring this through to the white shirt and really boss her team. I’ve gone with Harrison as the fly half though it was a tough choice. For me she is slightly better at exploiting space and has the more accurate boot. Look for her to keep the Black Ferns moving with her kicks to open up space for her team.
Centres: Holly Aitchison, Lagi Tuima
How do you replace Emily Scarratt? You can’t…. but the Red Roses have plenty of centre options to choose from. I’ve opted for Aitchison at inside centre. She’s played well alongside Zoe Harrison, can support a kicking game and as shown at the Olympics is a dangerous runner too. Tuima seems the natural choice at 13, a role she played during the summer series back in 2019. She’s an abrasive, physical centre who also has silky hands and a rocket boot. The thought of this pairing on the field really excites me!
Outside Backs: Jess Breach, Abby Dow, Sarah McKenna
Breach and Dow almost pick themselves. Two prolific wingers who both know their way to the tryline. Breach has slightly fancier footwork while Dow brings a little more power to her runs, but both are complete wingers with two way games. I’ve gone for Sarah McKenna at full back as there’s nobody in the squad who you’d trust more as the last line of defence against one of the best teams in the world.
The Bench: Lark Davies, Hannah Botterman, Sarah Bern, Cath O’Donnell, Poppy Cleall, Flo Robinson, Amber Reed, Ellie Kildunne
The problem with a squad as stacked as the one Middleton has at his disposal is that you can’t pick all the players you’d like to. I’ve opted for a bench built almost entirely around their ability to have a high impact in a condensed amount of game time.
In the front row Botterman and Bern are chaos, powerful props who are also incredibly dangerous in the loose with their hard carrying and eye for the try line. They’ll warrant a lot of focus when they join the fray. Lark Davies is the sort of player who never seems ruffled. She’s also excellent at set pieces and has a bonkers try-scoring record. I’ve opted for Cath O’Donnell as the second-row substitute as nobody hits quite like she does. Drop her into a game against tired opposition and she’ll wheel into contact like a wrecking ball. Poppy Cleall offers tons of versatility, she could easily start at lock, blindside or 8 but here I’ve opted for her as the most super of subs. Truly a world class back row, she can make things happen out of nowhere and that, coupled with her versatility makes her an excellent ace up Middleton’s sleeve.
Flo Robinson gets a bench nod despite being uncapped. The Exeter scrum-half is also emerging as a talented 10 and covers both roles here. Amber Reed offers a steadying presence to ensure that once the bench is emptied there’s still some control amid the chaos. Lastly Ellie KIldunne offers mesmerising footwork and flat out gas. She can cover any of the outside back slots and will enject a huge amount of energy as others begin to tire.
There are a number of players who can feel hard done-by not to make the team and that’s as true of my guess here as it will be for Middleton’s final selection. I’ve left out players like Harriet Millar-Mills, Vicky Fleetwood, Bryony Cleall and Helena Rowland, all of whom are excellent and will certainly feature across these fixtures. Equally Sadia Kabeya, Maud Muir and Emma Sing are such exciting young talents that I wish I could have named them too. I’m hoping they all get capped, but they may have to wait to face Canada or the US.
So there you have it. These are my picks, and I suspect many of them will be Mids’ choices too. Who would you like to see in the team on Sunday?