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England Women's team named for final Six Nations match
England Women's Head Coach Gary Street has made a raft of changes ahead of Sunday's final Six Nations match of the season against Italy at the Stadio Giulio e Silvio Pagani in Rovato, kick off 2pm GMT.
Street has made 11 changes to the starting line-up, including four positional, for a match where the Triple Crown champions will be looking to secure their fourth win of the Six Nations. An opening championship defeat to France has cost England dear as they now have to hope Ireland can defeat France on Friday night to keep alive their hopes of winning back the Six Nations crown.
Only wing Katherine Merchant, prop Rochelle Clark, lock Tamara Taylor and flanker Maggie Alphonsi, who will win her 70th cap on Sunday, retain their starting places from Friday's 35-3 win over Wales. 24-year-old Emily Scarratt, player of the match against Ireland and Wales, moves from fullback to outside-centre to win her 50th cap with Amber Reed switching to inside-centre, whilst Sarah Hunter moves to flanker and Rebecca Essex is named in the backrow at Number 8.
With skipper Katy Mclean, who has started every game this season, on the bench, Ceri Large starts at fly-half and Hunter takes over the captaincy. Fullback Danielle Waterman, who has 54 caps and has competed in two Rugby World Cups, is also set to start her first XVs game in 16 months. Richmond wing Natasha Brennan will also make her first start for England after making her England debut coming off the bench against Wales and scoring on her first touch of the ball.
On the bench Mercedes Foy, Claire Purdy, Georgina Gulliver and Lydia Thompson have all been called back into the squad ahead of England's final match before the Rugby World Cup kicks off in France in August.
Street said: "Having such depth of quality players in our squad does make it a challenge to keep consistency but as this is our last game before the RWC we have got to give players game time. We have not weakened the squad at all but given it a fresh boost before our last game of the Six Nations."
"It's great to have a fully fit Danielle Waterman back in the squad who I hope can add something different to the team, whilst Natasha Brennan very much impressed on her debut last week and it is vital we see more of her."
"Katy Mclean has been outstanding as captain and at fly-half this season but we have a very able back-up in Ceri Large at 10 who also needs to get some more game time under her belt.”
Italy sit fourth on the Six Nations table, just behind England, after wins over Wales and Scotland. England last played Italy in the Six Nations a year ago and inflicted a 34-0 defeat on the Azzurri.
Street added: "Italy have had a good season and I have been really impressed with their work rate and skill levels. They are a side that are improving all the time and we'll have to be really on our game on Sunday. We are confident that we have improved throughout the championship and we know that the only thing we can now control in this season's Six Nations is putting on a good performance against Italy.”
England team v Italy
15 Danielle Waterman (Bristol)
14 Katherine Merchant (Worcester)
13 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield) VC
12 Amber Reed (Bristol)
11 Natasha Brennan (Richmond)
10 Ceri Large (Worcester)
9 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield)
1 Rochelle Clark (Worcester)
2 Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield)
3 Laura Keates (Worcester)
4 Joanna McGilchrist (Wasps)
5 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
6 Sarah Hunter (Lichfield) C
7 Margaret Alphonsi (Saracens)
8 Rebecca Essex (Richmond)
16 Mercedes Foy (Thurrock)
17 Claire Purdy (Wasps)
18 Sophie Hemming (Bristol)
19 Hannah Gallagher (Saracens)
20 Marlie Packer (Wasps)
21 Georgina Gulliver (Lichfield)
22 Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
23 Lydia Thompson (Worcester)