Rugby Union

Women’s Rugby World Cup: Sarah Hunter captains England squad that includes six previous winners

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England have named a squad featuring six survivors from their 2014 Women’s Rugby World Cup triumph for their bid to claim New Zealand’s crown this autumn.

Captain Sarah Hunter leads a 32-strong group that also includes flankers Marlie Packer and Alex Matthews, prop Laura Keates, wing Lydia Thompson and centre Emily Scarratt as the former winners.

Another star of 2014 fails to make the cut, however, after veteran scrum-half Natasha Hunt was omitted in favour of Leanne Infante, Claudia MacDonald and Lucy Packer.

Head coach Simon Middleton has opted for a split of 19 forwards and 13 backs for a World Cup campaign that opens against Fiji in Auckland on October 8, with 19 players making their first appearances in the tournament.

England enter the event as strong favourites after following up their Grand Slam earlier this year by amassing 125 points in their two warm-up fixtures against the USA and Wales, in the process extending their record winning run to 25 Tests.

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“First and foremost I would like to start by acknowledging those who have missed out on selection,” Middleton said.

“There is not one single player in the wider squad who hasn’t given their all. Nobody has given less than their absolute best, they should be proud of their efforts throughout the team’s campaign to date.

“If between now and the tournament, or during the World Cup, we have to call anyone up, we can do it with 100 per cent confidence that we are bringing a top player in.

“I would like to say a huge congratulations to those who have made the squad. To earn selection means you have done some special things and you have been outstanding in your application to training and performances.

“We are really confident with the balance of the squad. I am pleased with the way the team is gelling and how our game is coming together. There is still plenty to work on, we expect to improve game-on-game.”

Natasha ‘Mo’ Hunt is the most high-profile omission from the squad

Hunter is the squad’s most capped player with 135 appearances and will be involved in her fourth World Cup, acting as skipper for three of them.

“While this is not about singling out individuals, it would be remiss not to reference our captain Sarah Hunter,” Middleton said.

“Sarah is a better captain now than she has ever been. She has owned the captaincy and how she represents the squad on and off the field is absolutely brilliant.

“When you work with someone for so long you sometimes need to remind yourself of her outstanding attributes, she is unbelievable in how she conducts herself.

“Her pride in and love of representing her country is as strong as ever. She is a class act and we are very fortunate to have her leading the side at this tournament.”

England squad for the World Cup in New Zealand:

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Forwards: Z Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), S Bern (Bristol Bears), H Botterman (Saracens), S Brown (Harlequins), P Cleall (Saracens), A Cokayne (Harlequins), V Cornborough (Harlequins), L Davies (Bristol Bears), R Galligan (Harlequins), S Hunter (Loughborough Lightning, captain), S Kabeya (Loughborough Lightning), L Keates (University of Worcester Warriors), A Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury), M Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury), C O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), M Packer (Saracens), C Powell (Gloucester-Hartpury), M Talling (Loughborough Lightning), A Ward (Bristol Bears).

Backs: H Aitchison (Saracens), J Breach (Saracens), A Dow (Wasps), Z Harrison (Saracens), T Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury), L Infante (Saracens), E Kildunne (Harlequins), C MacDonald (Exeter Chiefs), S McKenna (Saracens), L Packer (Harlequins), H Rowland (Loughborough Lightning), E Scarratt (Loughborough Lightning), L Thompson (University of Worcester Warriors).

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