Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 winner Emily Scarratt will make her first appearance of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Atlanta next weekend as England look to reach a first Cup semi-final of the season.
Scarratt, who scored 16 points – including a try – in England’s victory over Canada in the WRWC 2014 final, has been side-lined by injury since October and coach Simon Middleton hopes the strike power she brings will fill a gap in the squad.
Sarah McKenna has also been named in a squad for the first time this season after being involved with the 15s squad in the Women’s Six Nations as England prepare to face Canada, Brazil and China in Pool C at the Fifth-Third Bank Stadium in Atlanta on 14-15 March.
“It’s great to be welcoming back these players into the squad,” admitted Middleton, whose side lie fifth in the standings –four points behind France in the final qualifying place for Rio 2016 –after winning the Plate in both Dubai and Sao Paulo.
“Emily brings a tremendous amount of experience, and quality strike power which we have missed in certain areas of our game. She also offers us flexibility in a number of positions while Sarah has really thrown her hat in the ring with some brilliant form of late and I am excited to have her back in the squad.
“We are happy with the pool draw but we know it will be tough. Brazil played fantastically well on day one in Brazil so we cannot underestimate them. China can be really dangerous as well, though they are yet to hit their stride in the World Series and Canada are a side that are getting better and better.
“We have won one game and lost one game against them so it will definitely be about who gets it right on the day.”
England squad: Rachael Burford, Abi Chamberlain (captain), Amy Wilson-Hardy, Natasha Hunt, Sarah McKenna, Marlie Packer, Alice Richardson, Emily Scarratt, Michaela Staniford, Danielle Waterman, Joanne Watmore, Natasha Brennan.
Three changes for Canada
Canada coach John Tait has made three changes to his squad for the third round of the World Rugby Women’s Sevens Series in Atlanta, a tournament they reached the final of in 2014 to break the New Zealand-Australia dominance of title deciders last season
Brittany Benn and Natasha Watcham-Roy will both make their series debuts in Atlanta on 14-15 March, both are part of the Canadian centralised programme and have previously played on the Canadian development teams in recent years.
Benn was also part of Canada’s 15s squad which finished as runners-up at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in France, while Watcham-Roy helped her country win gold at the FISU Women’s Sevens Championship last year.
The other change sees Elissa Alarie return to the squad, having missed the last round due to injury.
“These two (Benn and Watcham-Roy) have a lot of potential and have earned their selection with steadily improving performances on our Maple Leafs teams and in training the past several weeks,” said Tait.
Canada finished third in both Dubai and Sao Paulo and will have a familiar foe in their pool in Atlanta with England their opponents for the third tournament in a row. The two will also face China and Brazil in Pool C at the Fifth-Third Bank Stadium.
With Olympic qualification the prize for sides finishing in the top four come the end of the series in May, Tait admits that selection is becoming tough as he looks to combine a settled core group of players with the need to expose new players to the requirements of the circuit.
“These players have been the most consistent in their performance this season, but our training group is becoming more competitive each week which is pushing that performance bar higher for the entire group,” said Tait. “It really has made selection tougher each time.
“They (new players) know now what their gaps are at the level and if they want to get back there they will work on improving those areas to get another chance to stake their claim,” said Tait.
Canada squad: Elissa Alarie, Brittany Benn, Bianca Farella, Julia Greenshields, Jennifer Kish (captain), Ghislaine Landry, Mandy Marchak, Kayla Moleschi, Karen Paquin, Kelly Russell, Ashley Steacy, Natasha Watcham-Roy