- Spencer captained England in the 2010 Women’s Rugby World Cup
- The flanker won 63 caps for her country, scoring 18 tries
- See Maggie Alphonsi’s latest column here
The Red Roses face Italy on Saturday at the Twickenham Stoop (kick-off 1pm, live on Sky Sports 2) in their third match of this year’s Women’s Six Nations.
England began their campaign by beating last year’s champions France 26-13 at Twickenham and they went on to defeat Wales 63-0 in round two.
Former England captain Catherine Spencer picks out three players from the Red Roses squad she believes will be crucial to their chances in this weekend's clash.
ALEX MATTHEWS, FLANKER, 26 CAPS (RICHMOND)
“Alex is a fantastic player, I’m very happy that she’s back in the squad as I’ve been singing her praises for a long, long time. I first saw her play in a youth tournament in Hartpury when she was around 15-years-old. I was making a player appearance as an England player and I noticed straight away that Alex was going to represent her country."She has an extra edge and real star quality. A world-class rugby player."
“She is strong and powerful and her ability to play at flanker or No. 8 makes her very useful to head coach Simon Middleton. I always joke I’m delighted that I’m a number of years older than her because I’m not sure I would have got so many caps. She provides momentum, aggression and dynamism. All of these characteristics are going to be important against Italy with the Red Roses trying to keep the pace of the game high.
“She’s been a big club player for a number of years, making an enormous impact in whatever game she plays in. It’s no surprise to see the number of carries and line breaks she made in the Old Mutual Wealth Series (32 carries and four line breaks in just two matches). She has an extra edge and real star quality. A world-class rugby player.”
RACHAEL BURFORD, CENTRE, 62 CAPS (AYLESFORD BULLS)
“Rachael is a former Kent rugby player like myself, and I’ve known her for a long time. We played against each other at club level long before any of us played international rugby. She played for Medway RFC while I turned out for Folkestone RFC and is one of the most experienced players in the squad. Rachael might have had some time away with the sevens side, but she’s added some extra strings to her bow.
“It’s not usual for Rachael to be among the substitutes as she was for the first two matches against France and Wales. However, she did incredibly well coming off the bench in both of those matches and showed true professionalism. Rachael is a strong ball carrier but also has really good distribution skills. She will help pinpoint the space in Italy’s defence and provide our electric back three with some good ball.
“Another one of Rachael’s skills is her defence, she works really hard when the other side has possession. Making 58 tackles during the Old Mutual Wealth series shows her physicality and she turns over a lot of ball. Rachael will no doubt present problems for Italy in attack and defence.”
VICKY FLEETWOOD, HOOKER, 56 CAPS (SARACENS)
“Vicky has been around for a few years now and has gained experience in XVs and sevens. She is really athletic and has a huge amount of skill with ball in hand. She is deceptively quick for a hooker, offering something a bit different to Amy Cokayne, who is a powerful, direct runner. Vicky has great speed and dynamism. If England can keep up the pace for 80 minutes, then players like Vicky will be hugely influential.
“Her work-rate and fitness levels are exceptional. She made 13 dominant carries in just 98 minutes of action in November’s Old Mutual Wealth Series which demonstrates that. Vicky has a knack for being in the right place at the right time to take the ball forward and is a player with an immense amount of rugby knowledge and ability.”
“Italy have made good starts in both games of the competition so far and they will present a big challenge on Saturday. They are constantly improving and are such a difficult team to play against, they’ve got some really quality players in their squad so England will not go into this thinking it’s an easy game.
“England shouldn’t do anything different than they did against Wales. Italy will be physical so the Red Roses need to keep working that aggression in the forwards. The pack needs to keep working hard up front so they can get that quick ball out to the backs. When England get that platform, our backs are playing so well that they will punish Italy.
“The Red Roses will have to be at their best if they want to win but they will go into the match with a lot of confidence after the performance against Wales.”