Maggie Alphonsi is the stand-out name in the England women’s squad for November internationals against France and Canada, the flanker having last played for the Red Roses in March 2012 because of injury.
Alphonsi, an England Rugby 2015 Ambassador, will make a welcome return for England with the Women’s Rugby World Cup in France now less than 10 months away, a tournament she will be eager to win after more than one final loss against New Zealand.
Fellow back row Hannah Gallagher also returns from an injury lay-off, while prop Sasha Acheson is the only uncapped player in the squad as coach Gary Street returns to select his “absolute strongest squad” available.
England will be looking to bounce back from a season which saw them finish third in the Six Nations – a title they had won the previous seven years – then suffer a series whitewash against world champions New Zealand and reach the Nations Cup final.
“This is an exciting squad and the absolute strongest squad I had available which is so important as we focus on this World Cup season,” explained Street.
“We have got some good preparation time ahead of these fixtures which will stand us in good stead and I am know by the time we play France the players and management team will be eager to kick off our international season with a bang.
Keep improving for World Cup
“I am delighted to be able to welcome Sasha into the squad. She has had a great start to this season and has been one of the stand out props in the Premiership. She has worked extremely hard to come through the RFU Divisional Programme as well, and that is great testament to her and the staff involved in developing our future talent.
“It is also exciting to welcome back our flanker partnership of Maggie Alphonsi and Hannah Gallagher. To welcome back a player of Maggie’s experience is always a tremendous boost and with Hannah’s return it just adds to the quality of our back row line-up.”
England will begin their campaign against France at Twickenham on 9 November after the men’s Test with Argentina and then face Canada four days later over the road at the Twickenham Stoop.
France ended the Red Roses unbeaten run at the home of English rugby with a 30-20 victory in this year’s Six Nations, while Canada beat England twice in the Women’s Nations Cup in America in August, including a 27-13 win in the final.
“It’s fantastic that we have enjoyed so much success in the past but at some point you have to be tested and in 2013 we were,” added Street. “Now, however, we feel we have the depth in the squad we need and I think this could be a very good season for us.
“France and Canada will of course be extremely tough opponents – both are consistently in the top six in world rugby. This is therefore a great opportunity for all of us to see where we are and where we have to keep on improving ahead of the World Cup in August 2014.”
Sasha Acheson (Bristol), Claire Allan (Richmond), Maggie Alphonsi (Saracens), Emily Braund (Lichfield), Rachael Burford (Thurrock), Rowena Burnfield (Richmond), Rochelle Clark (Worcester), Emma Croker (Richmond), Becky Essex (Richmond), Vicky Fleetwood (Lichfield), Hannah Gallagher (Saracens), Sophie Hemming (Bristol), Natasha Hunt (Lichfield), Sarah Hunter (Lichfield), Ceri Large (Worcester), Ruth Laybourn (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), La Toya Mason (Wasps), Katy McLean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Katherine Merchant (Worcester), Marlie Packer (Wasps), Claire Purdy (Wasps), Amber Reed (Bristol), Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), Michaela Staniford (Wasps), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Kay Wilson (Bristol).