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Middleton hails Sarries influence on Red Roses squad

In association with
City Index City Index

As the eight Saracens players in the Red Roses squad left England’s camp they were given a clear message – don’t rest on your laurels.

They may have beaten New Zealand twice, Canada and the USA, but the big games just keep on coming with the top of the table showdown with Bristol Bears in the Allianz Premiers15s due at the StoneX Stadium on Saturday, 4 December (kick-off 12.30pm).

While the international players were away, Alex Austerberry and his coaching team were able to give other players a run out in the Premier15s Cup. They won two and lost one and gave a lot of fringe and younger players a chance to shine.

Of the 14 players who went out on international duty over the past month, only Ella Wyrwas didn’t get a game. There was a 50th cap for Poppy Cleall in England’s win over Canada and first caps for Holly Aitchison for England against New Zealand and Kat Evans at the age of 35 for Wales against Japan.

The question is, can they all come back together and gel in time to catch Bristol in a Bear trap?


England (8) – Holly Aitchison, Hannah Botterman, Poppy Cleall, Vicky Fleetwood, Zoe Harrison, Sarah McKenna, Marlie Packer, Ella Wyrwas

Wales (3) – Kat Evans, Georgia Evans, Donna Rose

Canada (1) – Alex Ellis

USA (1) – Carly Waters

“The critical thing for the England girls is they go back to their clubs and play well. Their form in the Premier15s will be the springboard into the Six Nations,” said Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton.

“I told all the girls to go back to their clubs and be the best they can be. I expect them to be the stand out players and stand out characters for their club side.

“Consistency is the key to selection. They were able to have a couple of days off after the international series, but they were warned not to breathe out too much and take it too easy for too long.

“There is huge competition within the England squad for places in the team and there are many more squad candidates out among the clubs. It is a great position for me and my two fellow coaches to be in and we will be watching everyone’s form very closely over the next six weeks.”

So how did Sarries ‘ebullient eight’ get on with the Red Roses this autumn? Here is the verdict of their England coach:

Holly Aitchison
It was difficult to appreciate that Holly actually made her England debut against the Black Ferns – and marked it with a try - because she was so strong in all the games she played. She was a rising start at a young age and she turned into one of the stand out players for us in the autumn. I couldn’t be happier with her. She is such a natural player and could fit in anywhere in the back line.

Hannah Botterman
Started two games and came off the bench in the other two. Her physical profile is so different now to what it used to be and her eyes have been opened to what is possible for her to achieve. She is unbelievably skilful for a prop and when she came off the bench she caused carnage. On toip of that, she is a great character.

Poppy Cleall
She is a surprisingly quiet character around the camp, but when she gets on the field she leads by example. She is unbelievably knowledgeable about the game and we wanted to test out her leadership skills in one of the games. She has got her own style, but she made a success of it. She has taken on board all the S&C conversations we’ve had with her and has committed to the hard work in that area of her game. Now she is up for World Rugby Women’s Player of the Year.

Vicky Fleetwood
Unfortunate to injure her hamstring a week before the series started. She battled hard to get fit and it was touch and go whether or not we risked her against the USA. We all know what she has done, and what she is capable of, but the challenge is there for her now to go back to her club and fight for a place in next year’s squad.

Zoe Harrison
She really came of age in the series. We had seen her consistently running the Saracens show from No 10 and we wanted to see her do that with England. She was authoritative in team meetings, showed she really understands the game and then managed the matches superbly on the field. We wanted her to let go of any thoughts of comparison with Katy Daley-McLean and I think she has finally done that. She has an unbelievable kicking game which gives England a major point of difference to other sides.

Sarah McKenna
She was awarded the Peter Baines Award, named after the former RFU President, for the player who unselfishly gives herself most to the team. There was a time when you didn’t know what she was going to do, but she has developed into a rock for us at the back. She has worked hard on her core skills and we didn’t; start her in the first few games because we know what she can do. Everyone loves her.

Marlie Packer
Simply phenomenal. A good leader on and off the field and very consistent in her performances. We thought about making her captain or vice captain, but we know what she already brings to the team and didn;t ant that to change. She is uncompromising and always drives standards.

Ella Wyrwas
Unlucky not to get a game, but certainly left her stamp on the month with her performances in training. We now know we have got another candidate in waiting for the scrum half position

More World Cup winners in the making? That’s certainly the goal and things are shaping up well for the Red Roses.

But before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s knuckle down next weekend and turn over the Bears!


It may be like shooting for the moon, but there is a chance that next week Saracens could be celebrating a major double – World Rugby Men’s and Women’s Player of the Year for 2021.

While Maro Itoje has been nominated in the men’s category, Poppy Cleall is one of four candidates in the women’s section.

Given she helped the Red Roses to win the Six Nations title, extend their unbeaten run to 18 games, win her 50th cap and play in the sides that twice crushed reigning world champions New Zealand, Poppy must be in with a realistic shout of success.

As for Maro, once again his excellence got him onto a British & Irish Lions tour and he was enormous for England in the autumn.

All winners will be announced 6-10 December on World Rugby digital and social channels. You never know!

World Rugby Men’s 15s Player of the Year in association with Mastercard
Antoine Dupont (FRA) - Maro Itoje (ENG) - Michael Hooper (AUS) - Samu Kerevi (AUS)

World Rugby Women’s 15s Player of the Year in association with Mastercard
Zoe Aldcroft (ENG) - Poppy Cleall (ENG) - Caroline Boujard (FRA) - Laure Sansus (FRA)


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