Women's Six Nations final, England v France: Poppy Cleall to start in place of Sarah Hunter

Poppy Cleall playing against Scotland
Poppy Cleall won player of the match for her performance in England's opening win against Scotland
Women's Six Nations final - England v France
Venue: Twickenham Stoop Date: Saturday, 24 April Kick-off: 14:00 BST
Coverage: Watch live on BBC Two; listen on BBC Radio 5 Live and follow live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.

Poppy Cleall will start at number eight for England's Women's Six Nations final against France on Saturday, pushing captain Sarah Hunter to the bench.

Emily Scarratt will lead the defending champions from outside centre, with Zoe Harrison making her first start of this year's tournament at 12.

Helena Rowland cements her place as England's first-choice fly-half with a third consecutive start.

Hunter returned after 13 months out for England's win in Italy two weeks ago.

As well as a hamstring strain, the 35-year-old had been battling an injury to a nerve in her neck which left her struggling to tie her shoelaces.

But with so little game time, Hunter has struggled to compete with Cleall, who England head coach Simon Middleton agreed was one of the best players in the world after her performance in the Red Roses' win against Scotland on 3 April.

"It was great to have Sarah Hunter back against Italy," Middleton said of the change.

"She's not quite at the level she would want to be and we need [to be] for this game at the moment, which is to be expected and anticipated after 13 months out.

"Poppy has got a really good all-round game. Physically she is in the best shape she has ever been and that has translated on to the field."

England beat Scotland 52-10 and Italy 67-3 in the group stage to secure their place in the first Women's Six Nations final after the tournament's format was changed following the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

Middleton has largely returned to the side that claimed the opening victory against Scotland, with Sarah McKenna at full-back and Lark Davies starting at hooker.

Abbie Ward is at lock in place of Zoe Aldcroft, who moves into the back row alongside Marlie Packer.

Centre Meg Jones and flanker Alex Matthews have returned to the GB sevens programme and so were unavailable for selection.

Among the replacements, prop Detysha Harper and centre Lagi Tuima are back as England host a French side riding high following a 53-0 win against Wales and 56-15 victory in Ireland.

'I expect early fireworks'

Those French performances have put Middleton's side on high alert, with the head coach saying during training a big focus has been placed on how England start the final.

The Red Roses were impressive in their first half against Scotland but slowed after the break, while it was only in the second half that they shone against Italy.

Middleton stressed the importance of an 80-minute performance against France and added that he expects watching the game to be "nerve-wracking" against an "aggressive and dangerous" side.

"You know France will start the game big, so I expect a few fireworks in the first five minutes of the game," he continued.

"We have to be more consistent in both halves. We have to start well like we did against Scotland and finish well like we did against Italy."

'There are no second chances with final'

With England winning three of the past five Women's Six Nations titles and France claiming the other two, the sides have played several championship deciders in recent years.

But this will be the first time they have played a final and Middleton believes it is a "great opportunity" for his team's development.

"You get so few chances to actually play in a final," he said.

"It's really exciting and it definitely feels a bit different. There are no second chances with this game. You are either going to be champions or not."

England team to face France

England: McKenna; Breach, Scarratt (capt), Harrison, Dow; Rowland, Riley; Cornborough, Davies, Brown, Ward, O'Donnell, Aldcroft, Packer, P Cleall.

Replacements: Cokayne, Harper, B Cleall, Millar-Mills, Hunter, MacDonald, Tuima, Kildunne.