England Women welcome back flying winger Katherine Merchant to the starting line-up as the reigning Six Nations champions look to secure the Grand Slam and a record seventh successive crown this Saturday against Ireland at Esher RFC.
Although England Head Coach Gary Street has kept his pack unchanged he has made a handful of changes in the backline which sees Merchant, who has scored an impressive 37 tries in 43 appearances for England, return to action for the first time since England’s Six Nations victory against Italy a month ago.
Lichfield’s Natasha Hunt moves from full-back to scrum-half for this clash, with the versatile Emily Scarratt this time wearing the No. 15 jersey. Bristol’s Kim Oliver starts at centre while England also welcome back Saracens’ flanker Hannah Gallagher to the fold.
Street, whose side have scored 138 points and conceded just six on their journey to the final round, said: “Kat gives us some great experience in the backline and she is a potent attacking player and that could be vital on Saturday in what I am expecting to be a very close game.
“I have made a few tactical tweaks in the backline which will give us some new attacking options whilst I believe it will also strengthen our game for this vital match. Our pack really set the marker against France last weekend, producing outstanding ball with huge physicality and we need them to replicate that against Ireland.”
Saturday’s match is set to be a thriller with both England and Ireland still in the hunt to claim the Six Nations crown. Although England are the only side unbeaten side in the championship so far, Ireland could still take the title if they defeat England and score 24 points or more.
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Street added: “This has been Ireland’s best ever Six Nations season. They came close to beating France away and have scored a lot of points. This is the first time they have been in the running to win the Six Nations championship and they have a real fighting chance.
"They will be really up for it and we will be taking nothing for granted. They have got great pace out-wide, a good set-piece and Niamh Briggs’ kicking game is impressive.”
Tickets for the England versus Ireland game can be purchased on the day or online at http://www.esherrugby.com/ticket_sales.html, priced £10 for adults, £5 for Under 16s. Rugby fans can also watch the match live on www.rfu.com/englandwomenlive.com
15 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield)
14 Katherine Merchant (Worcester)
13 Rachael Burford (Richmond)
12 Kimberley Oliver (Bristol)
11 Kay Wilson (Bristol)
10 Katy Mclean (C) (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
9 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield)
1 Laura Keates (Worcester)
2 Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield)
3 Sophie Hemming (Bristol)
4 Rowena Burnfield (Richmond)
5 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
6 Marlie Packer (Bristol)
7 Margaret Alphonsi (VC) (Saracens)
8 Sarah Hunter (Lichfield)
16 Amy Turner (Richmond)
17 Rochelle Clark (Worcester)
18 Rebecca Essex (Richmond)
19 Hannah Gallagher (Saracens)
20 La Toya Mason (Wasps)
21 Ceri Large (Worcester)
22 Michaela Staniford (Wasps)
England’s Six Nations Fixtures & Results:
February 5th 2012, Scotland v England, Lasswade, Edinburgh, WON 47-0
February 12th 2012, Italy v England, Recco, Nr Genoa, WON 43-3
February 25th, 2012, England v Wales, Twickenham Stadium, WON 33-0
March 11th, 2012, France v England, Stade Charlety, Paris, WON 15-3
March 17th 2012 England v Ireland, Esher RFC, KO 2pm