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Bern, Ward and Infante set for Grand Slam decider

Head coach Simon Middleton has named his England matchday squad to take on France in the final round of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations on Saturday (Stade Jean Dauger, Bayonne, kick-off 2.15pm UK time, live on BBC Two).

It is set to be a special day for Alex Matthews, who is in line to earn her 50th cap, starting at blindside flanker.

Centre Emily Scarratt captains the side while lock Abbie Ward is named as vice-captain. Leanne Infante is selected at scrum half with Zoe Harrison and Holly Aitchison forming the 10-12 axis.

Helena Rowland starts at full-back once more alongside Lydia Thompson and Jess Breach. Poppy Cleall takes the No.8 shirt with Saracens team-mate Marlie Packer at openside flanker.  

Reigning World Rugby player of the year Zoe Aldcroft is at lock. Vickii Cornborough, Lark Davies and Sarah Bern form the front row.

Forwards Sarah Beckett and Sadia Kabeya return to the matchday squad and take their place among the finishers.


Middleton said: “We are really looking forward to our final fixture in France.

“Saturday sees another cap milestone for the Red Roses. Alex Matthews is someone I’ve had the privilege of working with for a very long time. She is a fantastic player, she has a great skill set and is an amazing athlete with a phenomenal work rate. To reach 50 caps and also be as successful on the sevens circuit as she has been should not be underestimated. Alex is also extremely humble too.

“We are all disappointed for Sarah Hunter on missing the game due to injury. If it was up to Sarah she would have played but she was not medically available for selection. I’m pleased she’s able to join us over in France to support preparations. At the same time, it gives us another opportunity to test our leadership depth in the most pressurised of situations and to that end we are in good hands with Emily Scarratt leading the side. Abbie Ward is named as vice-captain for this game. Abbie is a natural leader within our ranks and as a one of Sarah’s generals has helped to lead the side brilliantly, she is an integral member of the squad and I know she’s proud to have this role this weekend.

“It was fantastic to play in front of record crowds in Gloucester and Leicester in our previous two matches. Playing France in France is always a massive challenge. They have been the leaders in attracting large crowds for a long time. It’s great that we are now replicating that and Gloucester and Leicester should be applauded. 

“I suspect everyone looked at this fixture at the start of the Six Nations and singled it out as a potential decider, well that’s what we’ve come to. France have been in great form during the campaign but so have we. As a staff group, we are massively proud of the way the players have attacked this competition, we challenge them every day to be the best they can be in everything they do both on and off the field and they have risen to the challenge as one. Saturday will not define us as a team but there’s no hiding away from the fact that so much is riding on the game. That’s fine by us, we want that level of challenge, otherwise how do you realise your potential and prove your worth?

“Matches against France are always tight affairs. We know this one will be no different. I believe it will come down to which squad can maintain their intensity and focus, something we have done well in this competition. We are looking forward to the challenge.”

England team to play France

15. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 14 caps)
14. Lydia Thompson (Worcester Warriors, 52 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (C; Loughborough Lightning, 100 caps)
12. Holly Aitchison (Saracens, 7 caps)
11. Jess Breach (Harlequins, 21 caps)
10. Zoe Harrison (Saracens, 37 caps)
9. Leanne Infante (Bristol Bears, 50 caps)
 
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins, 68 caps)
2. Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 39 caps)
3. Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears, 44 caps)
4. Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury, 29 caps)
5. Abbie Ward (VC; Bristol Bears, 54 caps)
6. Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors, 49 caps)
7. Marlie Packer (Saracens, 82 caps)
8. Poppy Cleall (Saracens, 54 caps)
 
Finishers
16. Amy Cokayne (Harlequins, 61 caps)
17. Hannah Botterman (Saracens, 27 caps)
18. Maud Muir (Wasps, 8 caps)
19. Rosie Galligan (Harlequins, 5 caps)
20. Sarah Beckett (Harlequins, 23 caps)
21. Sadia Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning, 3 caps)
22. Natasha Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury, 58 caps)
23. Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins, 22 caps)


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