Marlie Packer to lead England in World Cup game against South Africa

Marlie Packer will captain England for the first time
Marlie Packer will captain England for the first time

England head coach Simon Middleton has made 13 changes to the final Rugby World Cup pool game against South Africa to be played on Sunday.

The red roses have already qualified to the quarter-finals following wins over Fiji and France in the opening two rounds but a win on Sunday will seal them the top spot in the table. Their win over France last weekend was also their 27th consecutive win.

From the previous game, only Marlie Packer and fly-half Zoe Harrison have retained their places. Sarah Hunter has been rested for the game which means she has to wait for her 138th England appearance which will make her the most-capped player for her country.

In the absence of Hunter, Middleton has handed the captaincy to Packer, who will be part of the back row that also has Poppy Cleall and 20-year-old Morwenna Talling.

Hannah Botterman, Connie Powell and Maud Muir will form a new-look front row with Rosie Galligan and Cath O'Donnell pairing up in the second row. Harrison will take the kicking responsibility forming a half back partnership with Lucy Packer.

Abby Dow, who recently recovered from a broken leg starts at right wing with Jess Breach at left and Sarah McKenna starts at fullback. The final two changes see Tatyana Heard starting at inside centre forming midfield partnership with Holly Aitchison.

"We're really looking forward to our final pool match at a new stadium on Sunday," said Middleton.

"I was really pleased with the performance against France. We dominated large parts of the contest and I felt the scoreline didn't reflect the game overall.

"We know we will need to be more clinical going forward, but our game management was world class, we hardly gave France a look in and the way we closed out the game showed all the composure we've come to expect from the squad.

"The game against South Africa is an extremely important fixture as it dictates our passage and route in the quarter-finals.

"It's also the first time the majority of our starting XV start a World Cup match which is something to be celebrated for each individual and collectively. We're all really excited to see how they go.

"South Africa have shown they're a strong side in their first two matches against France and Fiji and we expect this weekend's fixture to be no different."