Women’s Six Nations: England v Scotland – Helena Rowland starts at 10, Zoe Harrison out

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Helena Rowland
Venue: Castle Park, Doncaster Date: Saturday 3 April Kick-off: 15:00 BST
Coverage: Watch on BBC iPlayer; listen on BBC Radio 5 Live Sports Extra and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

England’s Helena Rowland will start at 10 in Saturday’s Women’s Six Nations opener against Scotland, while Zoe Harrison drops out of the matchday 23 after breaching coronavirus protocols.

Players must file a health report daily and Harrison lost her place because she failed to do this three times.

Wasps fly-half Meg Jones will fill the gap on the bench.

Centre Emily Scarratt captains the side as regular skipper Sarah Hunter continues her return from injury.

Hunter played for club Loughborough Lightning last weekend but has not recovered sufficiently from a hamstring strain for international duty.

Bryony Cleall – twin sister of starting number eight Poppy – will earn her second cap at tight-head prop as 2020 Grand Slam champions England begin their campaign at Doncaster’s Castle Park.

Cleall is joined by loose-head prop Vickii Cornborough and hooker Lark Davies, and in the second row Cath O’Donnell will make her first England appearance since 2019 following a long-term knee ligament injury.

Full-back Sarah McKenna, wing Lydia Thompson and flanker Zoe Aldcroft return to the starting XV after missing the autumn internationals.

Wing Abby Dow misses the match because of personal reasons.

England beat Scotland 53-0 in the 2020 Women’s Six Nations but head coach Simon Middleton is expecting greater competition this time.

“[Scotland captain] Rachel Malcolm said they are not daunted about playing us,” he said.

“They shouldn’t be because they’re a really good side. It will be a great contest. They will be climbing the walls before they get out of the changing rooms and we will be much the same.”

Harrison falters in race for 10 shirt

Zoe Harrison

Following the retirement of fly-half Katy Daley-Mclean in December, all eyes are on Rowland as she gets the first chance to show she is capable of stepping up to replace the World Cup winner.

The battle for the starting 10 shirt was supposed to be a straight shootout between the 21-year-old GB sevens player and Saracens fly-half Harrison, 22, but the latter’s Covid misdemeanours give Jones a chance to shine off the bench.

With the World Cup postponed until 2022, Middleton has 17 months to establish his new playmaker before England bid for the title in New Zealand.

Rowland may well have her sights set on that goal, but along with Jones is currently balancing her XVs ambitions with preparations for this summer’s Tokyo Olympics as part of the GB sevens squad.

Middleton described Harrison’s coronavirus breach as a “slight misdemeanour”, adding: “It wasn’t malicious, it’s just forgetfulness on Zoe’s behalf.

“It is disappointing for Zoe because she’s been playing outstandingly well and she’s really starting to flourish now but she understands, she put her hand up to it.

“As of Monday morning she will be back in camp with us and looking forward to Italy.”

New format will not distract England

After being postponed from its usual February-March window, the Women’s Six Nations is being played in a reduced format for 2021.

Teams are split into two pools and play two group games before a final weekend of fixtures to decide placings.

The temporary move away from a round-robin tournament means England will not be able to win a third Grand Slam in a row, but Middleton insists that has not altered the side’s focus.

“We know there’s a Six Nations title on the line and whatever format that comes in we’re concentrating on delivering on what we’ve trained over the last six months,” he explained.

“If we get that right, hopefully we’ll get the results and another title.”

England team to face Scotland

England: McKenna; Thompson, Scarratt (capt), Tuima, Breach; Rowland, Riley; Cornborough, Davies, B Cleall, Ward, O’Donnell, Aldcroft, Packer, P Cleall.

Replacements: Cokayne, Harper, Brown, Millar-Mills, Fleetwood, MacDonald, Jones, Kildunne.

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