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England Women: Sarah Hunter misses out with Emily Scarratt to captain side against Scotland in Six Nations

Sarah Hunter will be absent for their first game at home to Scotland but has returned to the squad for the tournament; Scotland make three changes to starting XV; England and Scotland in Pool A with Italy

By Joe Tanner

England Women head coach Simon Middleton has named his side to face Scotland in their Six Nations opener on Saturday, with Emily Scarratt captaining the Red Roses in place of Sarah Hunter.

Hunter is still managing her return to full fitness ahead of the clash against Bryan Easson’s team at Castle Park, Doncaster (kick-off 3pm), so her Loughborough Lightning team-mate Scarratt will stand in to skipper the side.

Hunter, 35, has endured a long spell away from action due to injuries. The forward has been recovering from a neural injury in her hand and a hamstring problem which saw her sit out of the 54-0 win over Italy in November.

Tighthead prop Bryony Cleall is in contention to receive her second international cap against Scotland. Harlequins’ Vickii Cornborough and Loughborough’s Lark Davies are expected to start alongside Cleall in the front row.

Cath O’Donnell is set to earn her 17th England cap at lock. Meanwhile Zoe Aldcroft, Lydia Thompson and Sarah McKenna all return to the squad after missing the back-to-back wins against France and Italy in the Autumn internationals last year.

Experienced scrum-half Leanne Riley, who featured in three Six Nations games last year, will start for Middleton’s side alongside 21-year-old Helena Rowland at fly-half. Wing Abby Dow misses the match due to personal reasons.

Middleton said: “We’re pleased to be able to welcome a number of players back from injury.

“It’s great to have Bryony back in the frame. It’s over two years since her debut and she’s been really unfortunate with injuries, however, she’s continued to work hard on her rehab and return to play programme and deserves her opportunity.

“Similarly, Cath O’Donnell has been out for a long time. Cath brings a physicality and a go-forward quality you need in international rugby and it’s great to see her back on the field.

“We’ve had a high-quality week preparing in Doncaster and we are as ready as we can possibly be at this point to play.

“Games against Scotland are always special occasions and this one will be no different.”

Scotland have made three changes to the team that claimed a 13-13 draw with France in their final match of last year’s Six Nations.

Christine Belisle, Louise McMillan and Siobhan Cattigan all come into the pack alongside captain Rachel Malcolm.

Rachel Shankland, who scored a late try on her Scotland debut to snatch a draw against France, starts on the right wing as part of an unchanged backline.

Evie Gallagher could make her debut if introduced from the bench while Liz Musgrove and Jenny Maxwell are also named among the replacements following their return from injury.

“The team that will take to the field on Saturday has an exciting blend of youth and experience,” said Scotland head coach Bryan Easson.

“We have several players that have been involved in a number of Six Nations championships now, but we also have a lot of young and upcoming talent that are pushing for places in the team.

“As a management team, we are looking for the players to express themselves on both sides of the ball and also showcase the hard work that they have put in over this difficult period.”

Scotland last faced England in the 2020 Six Nations, where the Red Roses thrashed their opponents 53-0 on their way to a second successive Grand Slam.

England: 15 Sarah McKenna, 14 Lydia Thompson, 13 Emily Scarratt (C), 12 Lagi Tuima, 11 Jess Breach, 10 Helena Rowland, 9 Leanne Riley; 1 Vickii Cornborough, 2 Lark Davies, 3 Bryony Cleall, 4 Abbie Ward, 5 Cath O’Donnell, 6 Zoe Aldcroft, 7 Marlie Packer, 8 Poppy Cleall.

Replacements: 16 Amy Cokayne, 17 Detysha Harper, 18 Shaunagh Brown, 19 Harriet Millar-Mills, 20 Vicky Fleetwood, 21 Claudia MacDonald, 22 Megan Jones, 23 Ellie Kildunne, NPR Maura Muir.

Scotland: 15 Chloe Rollie, 14 Rachel Shankland, 13 Hannah Smith, 12 Lisa Thomson, 11 Megan Gaffney, 10 Helen Nelson, 9 Mairi McDonald; 1 Leah Bartlett, 2 Lana Skeldon, 3 Christine Belisle, 4 Emma Wassell, 5 Louise McMillan, 6 Rachel Malcolm (c), 7 Rachel McLachlan, 8 Siobhan Cattigan.

Replacements: 16 Molly Wright, 17 Panashe Muzambe, 18 Lisa Cockburn, 19. Evie Gallagher, 20 Jodie Rettie, 21 Jenny Maxwell, 22 Sarah Law, 23 Liz Musgrove.

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