Emily Scarratt to captain England for Six Nations decider against France

Emily Scarratt will captain England against France in Bayonne

Emily Scarratt will captain England as they take on France in the Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam decider in Bayonne.

The centre, who won her 100th cap in her hometwon of Leicester last weekend, deputises for Sarah Hunter, who suffered a rib injury against Ireland.

Poppy Cleall is named to start in Hunter’s place at number eight, but faces a late fitness test having been unable to train fully this week while recovering from a calf injury.

Flanker Alex Matthews will win her 50th cap while Helena Rowland is retained at full-back after making her first England start in the back three a week ago.

England have not played France away from home in front of a full crowd since 2019 and head coach Simon Middleton is expecting a significant test at a sold-out Stade Jean-Dauger.

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“It’s probably the toughest game you can play in international rugby at this moment in time – France in France,” Middleton said ahead of Saturday’s encounter.

“We’ve got to grab hold of the atmosphere as well as the game. We’re in this business to get to these moments and see how good we actually are.

“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. 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.”

Expecting a significant physical challenge from France, Middleton has opted for a 6-2 bench split as both Sarah Beckett and Sadia Kabeya are recalled to the matchday squad.

France have not beaten England since 2018, but the pair’s three most recent encounters have been decided by four points or fewer.

The two sides will also meet in the pool stages of the World Cup in New Zealand later this year.

“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,” Middleton explained.

“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.

“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.”

France have recalled a fit-again Caroline Drouin, who combines with Laure Sansus in the halves for Annick Hayraud’s side.

Audrey Forlani also returns to the starting fifteen at lock; Celine Ferer slips into the back row.

England: Rowland; Thompson, Scarratt (capt), Aitchison, Breach; Harrison, Infante; Cornborough, Davies, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, Packer, Cleall.

Replacements: Cokayne, Botterman, Muir, Galligan, Beckett, Kabeya, Hunt, Kildunne.

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France: Jacquet; Boujard, Filopon, Vernier, M Menager; Drouin, Sansus; Deshayes, Sochat, Joyeux, Fall, Forlani, Ferer, Hermet (capt), R Menager.

Replacements: Touye, Lindelhauf, Brosseau, Annery, Gros, Chambon, Tremouliere, Boulard.

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