|Women’s Six Nations: France v England|
|Venue: Stade du Hameau, Pau, France Date: Sunday, 2 February Kick-off: 12:30 GMT|
|Coverage: Follow live commentary on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and the BBC Sport website|
England coach Simon Middleton has named an experienced starting XV as their Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam defence begins in France.
Saracens’ Vicky Fleetwood starts at seven in place of the injured Marlie Packer, while Loughborough flanker Amelia Harper, 19, may make her senior international debut off the bench.
Harriet Millar-Mills is also among the replacements for Sunday’s match after 22 months out and three knee surgeries.
The game in Pau kicks off at 12:30 GMT.
This may be England’s first game of the 2020 Six Nations, but many have called their match against France the tournament decider and it is expected to be the Red Roses’ toughest test.
England dominated last season’s Six Nations and beat France twice in November’s autumn internationals, but Middleton is taking no chances, choosing his strongest possible starting side.
With an average of 43 caps per player, the Red Roses will be led by centurion Sarah Hunter at number eight.
Fellow World Cup winners Katy Daley-McLean and Natasha Hunt are at fly-half and scrum-half respectively, while Jess Breach – the 2019 Women’s Six Nations’ top try-scorer with nine – starts on the right wing and Abby Dow on the left wing.
World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year Emily Scarratt is joined by 21-year-old Zoe Harrison in the centre, while up front Amy Cokayne returns at hooker and Fleetwood gets the chance to cement her spot at flanker having previously played in the front row.
Harlequins prop Shaunagh Brown is selected at tight-head, pushing World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year nominee Sarah Bern into the replacements,
Vickii Cornborough, who missed the autumn internationals with a neck injury, is also on the bench and could win her 50th cap if she comes on.
France – the 2018 champions – have former World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year Jessy Tremouliere starting at full-back and Pauline Bourdon at fly-half.
As well as aiming for a second successive Grand Slam title, England will replace New Zealand at the top of the world rankings if they beat Les Bleues by more than 15 points.
“We are all looking forward to another meeting with France,” Middleton said. “Games between the two sides are always tight, cagey affairs and we don’t expect this one to be any different.”
Harper ready to ‘step up’
Harper started playing rugby aged 15 and in just four years has worked her way into the senior England squad.
The flanker has impressed with club side Loughborough Lightning this season and says England training has been a “step up” and something she never expected.
“I picked up rugby late and didn’t think I’d get the opportunity,” she told BBC Radio 5 Live. “It’s a step up but I like a challenge.”
And if the 19-year-old impresses in Pau on Sunday, she could find herself playing on an even greater stage in 2021.
“With 18 months to go to the World Cup, you look at the last World Cup and see how some of the players came through in less time than that,” Middleton said.
“So Amelia has every chance of making that squad but it all starts on Sunday.”
France: Tremouliere; Boujard, Boudaud, Vernier, Banet; Bourdon, Sansus; Arricastre, Sochat, Deshaye, Forlani, Fall, Ferer, Hermet (c), R Menager.
Replacements: Thomas, Traore, Joyeux, N’Diaye, Annery, Peyronnet, Konde, M Menager.
England: McKenna; Dow, Scarratt (vc), Harrison, Breach; Daley-McLean, Hunt; Botterman, Cokayne, Brown, P Cleall, Aldcroft, Beckett, Fleetwood, Hunter (c).
Replacements: Davies, Cornborough, Bern, Millar-Mills, Harper, Riley, Reed, Scott.
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Article courtesy of BBC Sport