Home SPORTS Rugby World Cup: Holly Aitchison joins Emily Scarratt in England centres for final

Rugby World Cup: Holly Aitchison joins Emily Scarratt in England centres for final

by Zulu Forum
By Becky GreyBBC Sport in Auckland
Holly Aitchison
Holly Aitchison has 14 England caps
Rugby World Cup final – England v New Zealand
Venue: Eden Park, Auckland Date: Saturday, 12 November Kick-off: 06:30 GMT
Coverage: Listen on BBC Radio 5 Live; follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app; watch live on ITV

Holly Aitchison and Emily Scarratt will form England’s starting centre partnership for the first time at this World Cup in Saturday’s final against hosts and holders New Zealand.

Star full-back Helena Rowland will miss the match because of a foot injury sustained in the semi-finals.

Ellie Kildunne starts at 15 and Lydia Thompson comes in on the wing.

Claudia MacDonald moves to the bench, providing cover at scrum-half with Lucy Packer out of the squad.

Lock Cath O’Donnell is a surprise inclusion among the replacements, having last featured in the pool stage against France, as Rosie Galligan misses out.

Prop Hannah Botterman is unavailable because of a knee injury, meaning Shaunagh Brown is once again included on the bench.

England: Kildunne; Thompson, Scarratt, Aitchison, Dow; Harrison, Infante; Cornborough, Cokayne, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, M Packer, Hunter (capt).

Replacements: Davies, Muir, Brown, O’Donnell, Cleall, Kabeya, MacDonald, Heard.

Middleton coy on reasons for Aitchison inclusion

England have won their past 30 Tests, but have never beaten New Zealand in a World Cup final in four attempts.

The most recent of those defeats came in 2017, when the Black Ferns brought a different gameplan to come from behind in the second half and claim the title.

With a clash of styles expected as England play a forwards-focused game and New Zealand bring an unpredictable backline, England head coach Simon Middleton understandably wanted to keep his gameplan under wraps.

He simply stated that Aitchison had been picked because she can offer his side “certain things” against New Zealand.

Tatyana Heard has started the past three games at 12 and moves to the bench to make way for Aitchison, whose only start of the tournament came at 13 against South Africa in the pool stage.

Middleton has shuffled his midfield in this tournament before – Rowland started as his 12 before being moved to full-back and she will be missed after some stellar performances this World Cup.

Scarratt and Aitchison last combined to help England claim the Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam in France in April and Middleton will hope they can deliver under even more adversity at a sold-out Eden Park.

Aitchison does have form against New Zealand, having scored a try on debut against the Black Ferns in the autumn of 2021.

“There can be no bigger challenge in sport than to play the world champions in their own back yard in front of a sellout crowd – 99.9% of which will be forming part of the opposition,” Middleton said.

“Great teams don’t fear those challenges, they embrace them and meet them head on – that’s what we intend to do.”

Contrasting with England, New Zealand director of rugby Wayne Smith has opted for consistency in his selection.

Number eight Charmaine McMenamin is the only change to the side that beat France in the semi-finals, replacing Liana Mikaele-Tu’u, who sustained a thumb injury in that match.

Once again, the Black Ferns will field a formidable back three of Portia Woodman, Ruby Tui and Renee Holmes.

New Zealand: Holmes; Tui, Fluhler, Fitzpatrick, Woodman; Demant (capt), Cocksedge; Love, Ponsonby, Rule, Roos, C Bremner, A Bremner, Hirini, McMenamin.

Replacements: Connor, Murray, Taumata, Ngan-Woo, Simon, Bayler, Tubic, Leti-I’iga.

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