‘Massive’ competition for England places

England have so far beaten New Zealand and Canada this autumn
Date: Sunday 21 November Kick-off: 14:45 GMT Venue: Sixways Stadium, Worcester
Coverage: Live on BBC Two, BBC Sport website and app

England head coach Simon Middleton says there is “massive” competition for squad places as his much-changed side prepares to face the United States.

The Red Roses are aiming to claim their fourth and final win of the autumn in Worcester on Sunday.

Middleton is taking the opportunity to try out some of his “less experienced” players as he builds a team for the World Cup in 2022.

“We want to develop players this autumn,” he said.

“We feel this is one where we can look at one or two of the less experienced players. The competition for places is massive and we are about creating strength in depth.”

England’s abundance of talent is such that only two players – Zoe Aldcroft and Abby Dow – have started every game in an autumn that has so far delivered wins against five-time world champions New Zealand and Canada.

The Red Roses have now won 17 Tests in a row – an impressive milestone, but only the side’s third-best streak, given that they earned 23 consecutive victories from 1992-97 and 20 from 2007-09.

It is unsurprising, then, that Middleton says England have had “an unbelievable series so far”.

Aldcroft leads dominant England for first time

The Red Roses are likely to reach 18 wins in a row given that they have only lost once to the United States in their 19 meetings – that defeat coming in the World Cup final 30 years ago.

Conversely, the Eagles have lost all three of their autumn Tests, beaten twice by Canada and once by Ireland.

England’s dominance means they have a side with two of the four players on World Rugby’s Player of the Year shortlist – Aldcroft and Poppy Cleall – with Middleton nominated for the Coach of the Year award.

Lock Aldcroft’s impressive form has been rewarded as she captains England for the first time on Sunday.

Regular skipper Sarah Hunter is on the bench, with Harlequins’ Sarah Beckett returning at number eight after recovering from a knee injury.

Lydia Thompson is back on the wing for her 50th cap, while Helena Rowland and Holly Aitchison are the latest 10-12 combination.

Maud Muir makes her first Test start in an all-new front row, and Alex Matthews is at blind-side flanker, with Cleall – captain against New Zealand – dropping out of the squad.

Gloucester-Hartpury hooker Connie Powell and Harlequins scrum-half Lucy Packer are set to make their international debuts off the bench, where Rowena Burnfield is poised to earn her 50th cap.

For the United States, who have 154 caps in their starting XV to England’s 399, Hallie Taufoou makes her first start in the second row.

Captain Kate Zackary moves to open-side flanker in place of the injured Rachel Johnson, while sevens Olympian Kayla Canett is on the left wing and Exeter’s Jennine Detiveaux is on the right in her first Test since November 2019.

‘We ran out of energy in 2017. We won’t make that mistake’

Middleton says the autumn has given coaching staff “exactly what we want in terms of seeing players”.

After Sunday’s game, attention will turn to managing the side’s energy levels in a World Cup build-up that will include a Women’s Six Nations title defence.

In 2017, England beat New Zealand in a warm-up game before losing to the Black Ferns in the World Cup final months later and Middleton does not want history to repeat itself.

“Managing the energy levels shouldn’t be a problem,” he said.

“We won’t make that mistake. I think we ran out of energy in 2017. I think we will be all right.”


England: Dow; Thompson, Aitchison, Tuima, Cowell; Rowland, Infante; Cornborough, Davies, Muir, Millar-Mills, Aldcroft (capt), Matthews, Kabeya, Beckett.

Replacements: Powell, Botterman, Bern, Burnfield, Hunter, Packer, Harrison, Kildunne.

United States: Hawkins; Detiveaux, Bonte, Howard, Canett; Foster, Waters; Rogers, Hamdan, Jacoby, Taufoou, Washington, Ehrecke, Zackary (capt), Sommer.

Replacements: Treder, Learned, James, Kronish, Cairns, Ortiz, Fa’avesi, Levy.

Referee: Julianne Zussman (Canada)

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