England’s Sarah Hunter promises to ‘do talking on the field’ against New Zealand

Sarah Hunter has said New Zealand “can say what they want” before their autumn internationals opener on Sunday and warned the Red Roses will do their talking on the pitch after the Black Ferns outlined their tour ambitions.

New Zealand, the world champions, have not played a Test in two years due to the Covid-19 pandemic but that has not stopped them targeting a clean sweep in their four-match northern hemisphere series, starting with back-to-back Tests against England.

“They can say what they want about what game it is and what they want to do,” said Hunter, the England captain. “We are just thinking about ourselves and what we want to do and what this series is about for us. We will probably go and do our talking on the field on Sunday rather than get drawn into maybe responding to some of their statements.”

The top two teams in the world will use the games, starting with Sunday’s Test at Sandy Park, as a benchmark for next year’s delayed World Cup in New Zealand, with the match also notable for being the Black Ferns’ 100th Test, and the start of key concussion research which will see both team’s wear mouthguards to measure head impacts.

England are on a 14-game winning streak and the last time they lost a match was a 28-13 defeat by the Black Ferns in 2019. England’s head coach, Simon Middleton, is using the autumn fixtures against New Zealand, Canada and the USA as key preparation for the tournament next year. So are the two matches against the Black Ferns a chance to display how they have developed from the 2017 World Cup final defeat by their old rivals?

“It’ll definitely give us a picture of where we’re at and where they’re at,” Middleton said. “I think the key thing for us is we had a couple of really important bits we had to get right. One of them is to get our set piece back on track. And the other is trying to reflect some of the stuff we’ve done in training and some things we’ve done to reshape how we play a little.

Sarah Bern (right) returns to the front row for England after a long-term shoulder injury.
Sarah Bern (right) returns to the front row for England after a long-term shoulder injury. Photograph: Harry Trump/The RFU Collection/Getty Images

“I don’t think it will define the squad by any stretch of the imagination. I don’t think it will confirm everything we need to know about the squad. But it’ll give us a good picture of where we’re at and where we go next.”

With the help of new forwards coach Louis Deacon, the change-up in the set piece has influenced selection for Sunday’s game.

Prop Shaunagh Brown misses out on the matchday 23 while Vickii Cornborough is on the bench. Instead Hannah Botterman and Sarah Bern, who returns from a long-term shoulder injury, will line up either side of hooker Lark Davies in the front row.

Quick Guide

England team to face New Zealand


England Kildunne; Thompson, Aitchison, Reed, Dow; Harrison, MacDonald; Botterman, Davies, Bern, P Cleall, Ward, Aldcroft, Packer, Hunter (c). Replacements Cokayne, Cornborough, Muir, Millar-Mills, Matthews, Infante, Rowland, Tuima

Sunday 31 October, 2.30pm BST, Sandy Park, Exeter

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Middleton said of Deacon: “He sees things through a different lens in the pack and that’s the beauty of bringing in a new coach. Everybody is very on point … everybody has been brilliant, it’s testimony to how good a group they are. He’s really only had them together for three weeks but we look in great shape.

“His first comment to me after the first couple of sessions was: ‘I can’t believe how good these players are. I can’t believe how quick they’ve picked up the changes I’ve made.’Botterman has been absolutely outstanding. Lark gives us exactly what we need in this type of game.

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“And it’s great to have Bern back because we all know what she can bring. People associate Bern with her phase play and play around the field but she’s a really good set piece player.”

Other selections of note come with Poppy Cleall switched back to lock as Hunter regains her No8 jersey to lead the side, and Zoe Aldcroft at flanker. The uncapped Holly Aitchison comes in at outside-centre for the injured Emily Scarratt, Claudia MacDonald starts at scrum-half and fly-half Zoe Harrison gets the nod over Helena Rowland.


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