- England Women's skipper Sarah Hunter European Cup title tilt
- Spain up first in tournament opener
Photo: RFU Archive
Reigning Six Nations Grand Slam champions England Women will be looking to add some more silverware to their trophy cabinet when the FIRA-AER European Cup kicks on Saturday in Italy.
The defending European Cup champions, who also defeated the world champions New Zealand twice in the autumn, head to Rovereto ready to take on their European rivals Spain, Italy and France.
Lichfield No. 8 Sarah Hunter will captain a squad mixed with experience and youth. In a late call-up, Worcester’s Gemma Sharples and Chesham’s Lauren Cattell join the squad as cover for the injured Hannah Gallagher and Georgina Roberts respectively.
“There is always pressure on any England team to win and this tournament will be no different,” said Hunter, who takes over the captaincy armband from the injured Katy McLean. “Every team always wants to beat England and the opposition we’ll face in Italy will test us and challenges us all the way. We always set ourselves high standards and we will be looking to continue our winning streak, and also retain our European Cup crown.”
Photo: RFU Archive
There are 15 players in the squad who featured in this season’s record breaking Six Nations campaign while seven players could be set to win their first caps for England: Darlington Mowden Parks’ Ruth Laybourn, Richmond’s Fiona Davidson, Worcester’s Lydia Thompson, Bristol trio Kate Newton, Amber Reed and Sally Tuson and Chesham’s Cattell.
Hunter added: “There is a young feel to this squad but I think there is a good blend of experience mixed in there too. The players may be young but many of them already have had international experience.
“Kate Newton has worked very hard and shown great ability in switching from second row to prop, while Fiona Davidson and Lauren Cattell have come through the England U20s system. Amber Reed can hit some great lines in attack and can be relied on for her kicking ability while Ruth Laybourn has extraordinary pace that any team will find hard to deal with.
"Lydia Thompson can be relied on to transfer her Sevens skills to XVs and Sally Tuson is a big strong runner and will be a threat with the ball in hand. All these players have proved themselves and this is an exciting squad that I have every confidence will do extremely well.”
England’s European Cup campaign kicks off on Saturday against Spain, before taking on Six Nations rivals Italy on May 15 and France in the final game of the round robin tournament on May 19. With England and France drawing a game apiece this season the final match is already set-up to be a thriller.
"This is probably going to be our toughest European Cup for quite some time," added Hunter. "Spain might not be a 6 Nations team but we played them in the European Championship final last year and they pushed us all the way, with England only winning with a last minute try.
"Italy and France have really tested us in the 6 Nations over the last couple of years and no doubt they will be out for revenge. We definitely know we will have to be at the top of our game to come away with three wins."
England Women European Cup squad
Emily Braund (Lichfield)
Rowena Burnfield (Richmond)
Lauren Cattell (Chesham)
Rochelle Clark (Worcester)
Emma Croker (Richmond)
Rosemarie Crowley (Lichfield)
Fiona Davidson (Richmond)
Rebecca Essex (Richmond)
Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield)
Sarah Hunter (C) (Lichfield)
Laura Keates (Worcester)
Ceri Large (Worcester)
Ruth Laybourn (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
Katherine Merchant (Worcester)*
Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield)
Kate Newton (Bristol)
Kimberley Oliver (Bristol)
Marlie Packer (Bristol)
Amber Reed (Bristol)
Georgina Rozario (Lichfield)
Emily Scarratt (Lichfield)*
Gemma Sharples (Worcester)
Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
Lydia Thompson (Worcester)
Sally Tuson (Bristol)
Danielle Waterman (Worcester)
*Merchant and Scarratt will join the England squad following the conclusion of the IRB Women’s Challenge Cup Sevens (May 12-13)
England Women European Cup Schedule
Spain v England, May 12, KO 430pm BST
Italy v England, May 15, KO 5pm BST
France v England, May 19, KO 630p