ALEX MATTHEWS IN ENGLAND SQUAD AS RED ROSES EYE GRAND SLAM

Alex Matthews has been named among the finishers for England Women’s rearranged Six Nations fixture against Italy in Parma on Sunday (kick-off 5pm GMT, live on Sky Sports Arena).

The tenacious back-row, who has hit the ground running with Warriors Women in the opening rounds of the Allianz Premier 15s, is set to add to her 37 Red Roses caps.

“We know the quality that Alex Matthews can bring,” added Head Coach Simon Middleton.

“Despite a number of injuries, we have real depth to our squad and after a tough year for everyone, we’re really grateful to be preparing for international rugby again and targeting a Grand Slam.”

Matthews was among the youngest members of the squad to lift the World Cup in 2014 and featured in every game of the 2017 World Cup in Ireland, before being part of the England Sevens bronze medal-winning team at the 2018 Commonwealth Games.

“We are really pleased for Alex and her selection in England’s matchday squad is testament to all her hard work,” said Warriors Women Director of Rugby Jo Yapp.

“Alex has been impressive for us since joining the club and her professionalism both on and off the field is fantastic.”

Elsewhere in the squad, Loughborough Lightning’s Morwenna Talling starts in the second-row for her senior debut while Abbie Ward and Marlie Packer are set for their first appearances in just under a year.

Ellie Kildunne makes her first international XVs appearance since the 33-11 win over Ireland in the 2018 Women’s Six Nations.

Natasha Hunt has withdrawn from the squad after returning a positive Covid-19 test. The Gloucester-Hartpury captain will isolate for 10 days before undertaking a seven-day return to play programme. There were no other positive tests returned.

Wasps FC Ladies’ Claudia MacDonald will now start at scrum-half, while Leanne Riley joins the group and takes her place on the bench.

Middleton said: “While we’re understandably disappointed for Mo [Natasha Hunt], the health and safety of all players and staff members is paramount.

“The situation has been handled very well by our medical staff. All training session and training venue footage was reviewed to establish any close contacts and players were interviewed. Fortunately, no-one else needed to isolate.

“Claudia is a fantastic replacement and the game gives her a chance to impress from the start.

“Earning a first cap is always a special moment. Morwenna Talling has excelled in training and club matches and we feel thoroughly deserves her opportunity.

“Despite a number of injuries, we have real depth to our squad.”

England Women team to play Italy

Backs
15. Ellie Kildunne (Wasps FC Ladies, 8 caps)
14. Jess Breach (Harlequins Women, 13 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (C; Loughborough Lightning, 89 caps)
12. Amber Reed (Bristol Bears Women, 57 caps)
11. Abby Dow (Wasps FC Ladies, 12 caps)
10. Katy Daley-Mclean (Sale Sharks Women, 114 caps)
9. Claudia MacDonald (Wasps FC Ladies, 9 caps)

Forwards
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Women, 53 caps)
2. Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 25 caps)
3. Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears Women, 35 caps)
4. Abbie Ward (Harlequins Women, 42 caps)
5. Morwenna Talling (Loughborough Lightning, 0 caps)
6. Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women, 40 caps)
7. Marlie Packer (Saracens Women, 71 caps)
8. Sarah Beckett (Harlequins Women, 17 caps)

Finishers
16. Amy Cokayne (Harlequins Women, 50 caps)
17. Detysha Harper (Loughborough Lightning, 1 cap)
18. Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Women, 17 caps)
19. Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps FC Ladies, 55 caps)
20. Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors Women, 37 caps)
21. Leanne Riley (Harlequins Women, 37 caps)
22. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 0 caps)
23. Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women, 24 caps)

NPR: Heather Kerr (Wasps FC Ladies, 23 caps)