England Women without injured captain Sarah Hunter as they bid for Grand Slam

Captain Sarah Hunter has been ruled out of England’s final Six Nations game against Italy on Sunday with a hamstring injury.

The Red Roses, who were crowned champions on Sunday afternoon when France were held to a 13-13 draw in Scotland, head to Parma this weekend seeking a second straight Grand Slam.

Centre Emily Scarratt will lead the team in Hunter’s absence, while flanker Marlie Packer is back in the fold after nine months out and lock Abbie Ward returns following 11 months on the sidelines.

Head coach Simon Middleton said: “We’re naturally disappointed Sarah Hunter is ruled out but we feel it’s best she sits out of this one in order to recover properly. We have a big year ahead and must play the long game.”

Loughborough Lightning forwards Detysha Harper and Morwenna Talling have been named in Middleton’s group after making their senior breakthroughs earlier this year, while Ellie Kildunne and Alex Matthews have been included after impressing with the sevens and Helena Rowland is in line to win her first cap.

He continued: “Morwenna Talling is someone who has been in and around the squad over the last season. She’s a high-intensity player and fits with exactly how we want to play.

“The players who have returned from sevens have done exceptionally well in the opening rounds of the Allianz Premier 15s and we’re looking forward to seeing how Ellie, Alex and Helena fare this week.

“Having Abbie Ward and Marlie Packer back is a huge plus for us. They’re vitally experienced and talented players. It’s great to be preparing for a match again and we can’t wait to take to the field.”