Warriors Women’s Alex Matthews starts for England this Saturday when they take on Italy in Parma in the second of their Pool A Six Nations fixtures (kick-off 2pm BST, live on BBC iPlayer).
Matthews, 27, who gets the nod at blindside flanker for her 41st cap, has been a formidable presence at the heart of Warriors’ pack this season and has played a key role in her side’s recent good form, which includes wins against Sale Sharks Women and Bristol Bears Women.
Superstar wing Lydia Thompson sits this one out after featuring in last week’s 52-10 victory over Scotland at Castle Park. The Team of the Decade inductee has only recently returned from injury, getting some valuable minutes under her belt during Warriors’ victory over Bristol prior to her England selection last week.
The trip to Italy will rekindle fond memories of last year’s Grand Slam-winning triumph, which saw Matthews drafted into Simon Middleton’s starting XV after making quite an impression on her arrival to the Allianz Premier 15s stage.
Red Roses Head Coach Simon Middleton said: “I was really pleased with aspects of our game against Scotland, and I thought we were outstanding for the majority of the first half.
“The frustrating part was that we got ourselves into a position where we wanted to be in the game but then didn’t kick on. The ability to sustain a high level of performance for the majority if not all of the game is the thing we are working towards in training, so to put in a great 40 minutes and then not back that up in the second half was not what we wanted.
“We’ve had a good week of training and have looked to address the discipline issues such as the penalty count. In the past we have prided ourselves on our discipline but defensively we are looking to play more on the edge and you can’t do that without walking a fine line, we have to make sure we are at the right side of it.
“This game in Italy also gives us an opportunity to look at some other combinations and we’ve decided to rotate the squad.
“We’re delighted to have Sarah Hunter back in the team. She loves playing for her country and has worked so hard to get back playing.
“This week we will be looking to maintain our performance levels for more of the game, the objective is to finish as strong as possible. Last week the finishers gave us a lift and allowed us to regain the momentum, but we want to be on the front foot when they come on to allow them to focus on raising the bar as opposed to rescuing a situation.
“The biggest of games are generally decided in the latter stages so the depth of the squad and the impact of the finishers is likely to be the deciding factor. That is their role, to get the job done in style and that’s what we will expect to see on Saturday.
“The last time we played in Italy and at the same venue it culminated in a great night for us, so it goes without saying we’re really looking forward to going back.”
England team to play Italy
15. Ellie Kildunne (Wasps FC Ladies, 12 caps)
14. Jess Breach (Harlequins Women, 16 caps)
13. Emily Scarratt (VC; Loughborough Lightning, 93 caps)
12. Megan Jones (Wasps FC Ladies, 11 caps)
11. Abby Dow (Wasps FC Ladies, 15 caps)
10. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 4 caps)
9. Leanne Riley (Harlequins Women, 41 caps)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins Women 57 caps)
2. Amy Cokayne (Harlequins Women, 54 caps)
3. Shaunagh Brown (Harlequins Women, 21 caps)
4. Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury Women, 21 caps)
5. Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning, 16 caps)
6. Alex Matthews (Worcester Warriors Women, 40 caps)
7. Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens Women, 77 caps)
8. Sarah Hunter (C; Loughborough Lightning, 123 caps)
16. Lark Davies (Loughborough Lightning, 29 caps)
17. Hannah Botterman (Saracens Women, 20 caps)
18. Bryony Cleall (Saracens Women, 2 caps)
19. Harriet Millar-Mills (Wasps FC Ladies, 59 caps)
20. Poppy Cleall (Saracens Women, 44 caps)
21. Claudia MacDonald (Wasps FC Ladies, 13 caps)
22. Zoe Harrison (Saracens Women, 27 caps)
23. Sarah McKenna (Saracens Women, 33 caps)
NPR: Maud Muir (Wasps FC Ladies, 0 caps)