New captain Katy McLean will lead a familiar looking England side against Wales in their opening RBS Women’s Six Nations campaign after coach Gary Street named a squad featuring 16 players who experienced Women’s Rugby World Cup final heartache in September.
McLean, who takes over the captaincy from Catherine Spencer, is one of 11 players in the starting line up who also ran out against New Zealand in that final while Rachael Burford moves to the bench against Wales. Four others who started on the bench in that final are retained in the match-day squad.
England will be bidding for a sixth successive title – and fifth Grand Slam in that period – and start as favourites, having not been hit by the number of retirements and playing sabbaticals that their rivals have since the World Cup.
“We have worked really hard since the disappointment of losing the World Cup final,” explained Street. “We are fortunate that we haven’t had many retirements since the World Cup and that this is still a relatively young squad, so we are now just looking forward to getting back on the pitch and playing again. Our aim is to raise our standards and to focus 100 percent on this first game.”
Wales endured a disappointing World Cup campaign in finishing ninth and have seen a raft of experienced players retire, including Non Evans and co-captain Mellissa Berry, with Naomi Thomas, Catrina Nicholas and Gemma Hallett all taking a break from the game.
England ran out 31-0 winners in last year’s Championship, but will be wary that the last time they played Wales in the Principality they suffered a first ever loss, 16-15. Throw into the mix a new coach in Kris de Scossa and Street is taking nothing for granted.
“The last time we played Wales in Wales we lost 16-15, so yes there is huge motivation for us here. We got turned over last time and we don’t want that to happen again,” admitted Street.
“Wales, however, have a new coach in Kris da Scossa. Kris is very experienced, having previously worked for the Canadian national side, and I am sure for his players having a new coach will create extra motivation. This is a new start for them so we won’t know what to expect.
“For us too, this is a new start with a new captain and vice captain and we are all looking forward to getting back on the pitch and starting the healing process. There is huge anticipation for this game and the season ahead and my selection for this opener shows that I plan to make sure we do the job.”
England team to play Wales:
1. Rochelle Clark 2. Amy Garnett 3. Sophie Hemming 4. Joanna McGilchrist 5. Rebecca Essex 6. Sarah Hunter 7. Maggie Alphonsi 8. Catherine Spencer 9. La Toya Mason 10. Katy McLean (Captain) 11. Michaela Staniford 12. Kim Oliver 13. Emily Scarratt 14. Katherine Merchant 15. Danielle Waterman.
Replacements: 16. Emma Croker (Richmond), 17. Claire Purdy (Wasps), 18. Rowena Burnfield (Richmond), 19. Heather Fisher (Worcester)20. Georgina Rozario (Lichfield), 21. Rachael Burford (Richmond), 22. Georgina Roberts (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks).
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