Back-to-back Grand Slam winners England dominate their Women’s Six Nations opener against Scotland, securing an eight-try victory.
|England: (33) 52|
|Tries: Packer, Riley, Davies, B Cleall, Breach, Rowland, P Cleall, penalty Cons: Scarratt 5|
|Scotland: (3) 10|
|Try: Smith Con: Nelson Pen: Nelson|
The Red Roses claimed a first-half bonus point in Doncaster, with Jess Breach’s incredible solo score the pick of their five tries.
Scotland offered some resistance and Helen Nelson claimed three points.
But England crossed three more times in the second half and Hannah Smith scored Scotland’s only try.
In a new format created because of the coronavirus pandemic, teams will play two pool games before a final weekend of fixtures to decide placings.
The result puts England top of Pool A and the Red Roses will face Italy next Saturday, while Scotland will have a rest weekend before a now crucial encounter against the Azzurre.
England’s fluid attack too much to handle
England had gone longer than usual without a match because the Women’s Six Nations was delayed by two months and there were early signs of rust as first Sarah McKenna, then Helena Rowland’s cross-field kicks sailed over Lydia Thompson’s head.
But it did not take long to get the cogs moving again on what was such a dangerous attacking machine in 2020.
Bulldozing Poppy Cleall led the way from number eight and her deft hands helped twin sister Bryony barrel through Scottish defenders, before Marlie Packer finished off the move with a pick and go across the tryline.
England recycled quick ball from the base of the ruck and the pressure told for Scotland as Leanne Riley barged her way through defenders to score England’s second.
In such a dominant victory discipline may still be of concern for head coach Simon Middleton given his side conceded 14 penalties, with an early one giving Scotland fly-half Nelson her first three points.
More worrying than penalties were yellow cards awarded to Poppy Cleall and Lark Davies in the second half.
As well as fly-half Rowland looking to prove she can fill the void left by the retired Katy Daley-Mclean, Lagi Tuima was auditioning for a starting place in England’s midfield.
The centre made an impressive counter-attacking break, before Poppy Cleall sent the ball to Bryony, who scored the bonus-point try on her first foray into international rugby for two years.
Repeated infringements from Scotland in the run-up to that score led to a yellow card for centre Lisa Thomson.
Breach made the most of the numerical advantage with a characteristic moment of individual magic as she claimed a cross-field kick from Rowland and ran round defenders, making the 40m she covered to the tryline look easy.
Scotland show signs of promise
The scoreline may not look favourable for Scotland, but it is a promising sign of progress after 53-0 and 80-0 defeats in the past two years.
The visitors created opportunities but were occasionally hesitant from the base of the ruck, making it easy for England to push them backward.
In light of previous scoreless losses Nelson’s three points were significant and Scotland were relentless in the pursuit of more, with lock Emma Wassell’s ball-carrying particularly impressive.
The absence of captain Rachel Malcolm in the second half was concerning and more worrying still was the sight of her in the stands with heavy strapping on her knee.
Malcolm made way for Evie Gallagher to come on for her debut and with Scotland still down to 14 players Breach capitalised once more.
The Quins back flew down the left wing and found Rowland, who scythed through defenders to score her first international XVs try.
After Poppy Cleall received her yellow card for an infringement at the ruck, Mairi McDonald took a quick penalty and found centre Hannah Smith, who made it through Tuima’s tackle to score.
England then went down to 13 players because of a high tackle by hooker Davies, but Scotland could not add to their 10 points.
Instead, the visitors too had a lapse in discipline as hooker Molly Wright was given a red card for a high tackle.
With England back up to 15, Poppy Cleall crossed in a maul before the hosts were awarded a penalty try when Scotland pulled down a rolling maul.
Louise McMillan was shown a yellow card for the infringement in a disappointing end to what was overall a promising performance.
Player of the match – Poppy Cleall
‘We’ve been waiting a while’ – what they said
England’s player of the match Poppy Cleall said: “We’ve been waiting a long while for the opening game of the Six Nations. Some bits we won’t be too happy with and we can play better than that but it’s a good start for us.
“We have been watching the men’s game and how the new laws work and we need to get up to speed a little bit with that side of things.”
World Cup-winning England scrum-half Natasha Hunt on BBC iPlayer: “Scotland tried to play too much rugby in their own half at times instead of sending it long, chasing hard and seeing what England can do with it. England were relentless, but ultimately I think Scotland can take plenty of positives from that performance.”
England: McKenna; Thompson, Scarratt (capt), Tuima, Breach; Rowland, Riley; Cornborough, Davies, B Cleall, Ward, O’Donnell, Aldcroft, Packer, P Cleall.
Replacements: Cokayne, Harper, Brown, Millar-Mills, Fleetwood, MacDonald, Jones, Kildunne.
Scotland: Rollie; Shankland, Smith, Thomson, Gaffney; Nelson, McDonald; Bartlett, Skeldon, Belisle, Wassell, McMillan, Malcolm (capt), McLachlan, Cattigan.
Replacements: Wright, Muzambe, Cockburn, Gallagher, Rettie, Maxwell, Law, Musgrove.
Referee: Aurelie Groizeleau (Fra)