Player in Focus: Sarah Hunter — July 3, 2017

Player in Focus: Sarah Hunter

World Cup winner. World Player of the Year in 2016. Six Nations Grand-Slam-winner. Captain of the best women’s rugby team on the planet. Sarah Hunter’s trophy cabinet must be bulging with all that silverware, but what is it about her game that makes her one of the most decorated and well-respected players in the world?

Vital Stats:

Position: Number 8
Caps: 93
Points: 95
Debut: 2007 (v Scotland)
Club Team: Bristol
Age: 31

Skills:

Tackling: This is one of the staples of back-row play, and Hunter excels in this area. She very rarely misses tackles and often stops opponents in their tracks, even when they’re much bigger than she is.

Mobility and fitness: Hunter gets through an enormous amount of work and covers a huge amount of ground. She’s a tireless worker, often doing the hard graft in the rucks and mauls, and she’s incredibly mobile, getting across to cover line-breaks and working hard to fill any gaps in the defensive line. She puts her absolute all into every game she plays and is instrumental to the Red Roses’ recent success.

Scrums: Hunter is, without doubt, one of the best operators at the back of the scrum in the world (in both the men and women’s game). Her ability to pick up the ball and make metres when her pack is being shoved backwards at a rate of knots is no mean feat in terms of skill, and her quick pick-ups often stop England giving up a scrum penalty or being turned over. In fact, here’s another one to savour – see how Hunter’s quick pick-up allows the backs to attack and get well over the gain line, generating quick ball from the resultant ruck.

Mauls: The Red Roses’ attacking maul is an enormous strength of theirs and Hunter plays her part in them, but it is defensive mauls where she shines. She is very good at getting to the ball carrier and latching onto the ball, using all her strength to prevent the opposition from being able to play the ball and winning the penalty.

Running: Hunter often takes crash balls and makes the hard yards around the ruck area, but she can also pick a line to perfection as this exquisite example shows. Two phases later, England score.

Leadership: I think this video from her team-mates says it better than I ever could. And the pride with which she talks about representing her country and leading the team in that video is a true measure of the person and player she is: humble, hard-working and immensely focused on getting the best out of herself and her team.

England name their squad for the World Cup — June 30, 2017

England name their squad for the World Cup

The Red Roses have named a 28-strong squad for the Rugby World Cup later this year.

Fresh from their International Series wins against Australia, Canada and New Zealand, the Red Roses’ squad is largely unchanged. It is also a vastly experienced side, with several players heading to their fourth World Cup.

Number 8 Sarah Hunter remains captain, while Emily Scarratt is named as vice-captain.

The newly-crowned World Number One side kick off their World Cup campaign on 9th August against Spain before taking on Italy (13th August) and the USA (17th August) in the pool stages.

“We are confident we have an incredibly strong squad, made up of hugely experienced players who have featured in previous Women’s Rugby World Cups and other major tournaments such as the Olympics,” said head coach Simon Middleton.

England Squad for the 2017 Rugby World Cup

Forwards: Zoe Aldcroft (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 4 caps), Sarah Bern (Bristol, 10 caps), Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries, 124 caps), Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 28 caps), Vickii Cornborough (Harlequins, 25 caps), Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 61 caps), Sarah Hunter (C) (Bristol, 93 caps), Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 8 caps), Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 22 caps), Alex Matthews (Richmond, 31 caps), Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 46 caps), Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 31 caps), Marlie Packer (Bristol, 47 caps), Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 17 caps), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 105 caps).

Backs: Rachael Burford (Harlequins, 67 caps), Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 37 caps), Megan Jones (Bristol, 4 caps), La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 66 caps), Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 85 caps), Amber Reed (Bristol, 39 caps), Leanne Riley (Harlequins, 10 caps), Emily Scarratt (VC) (Lichfield, 69 caps), Emily Scott (Saracens, 23 caps), Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 34 caps), Danielle Waterman (Bristol, 70 caps), Kay Wilson (Richmond, 44 caps), Amy Wilson Hardy (Bristol, 7 caps)

Red Roses beat New Zealand in final tour match — June 20, 2017

Red Roses beat New Zealand in final tour match

The Red Roses have ended their tour in the most emphatic way, beating host country and world number one side New Zealand in Rotorua. Tries from Abbie Scott, Emily Scarratt, Lydia Thompson, Marlie Packer and Vicky Fleetwood helped England to an eight-point victory as they won 29 – 21.

The visitors started superbly when, with barely a minute played, winger Lydia Thompson broke down the right and made her way into the Black Ferns’ half. The ball was recycled quickly and passed left to Emily Scarratt, who accelerated into a gap and slid over to score in the corner. She then nailed the tricky conversion and England were off to the perfect start.

The Black Ferns soon hit back with a try of their own, scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge with a superb solo effort. She stepped past two players before chipping the ball over full-back Danielle Waterman and regathering to score. She then converted her try, making the score 7 – 7.

The Red Roses were attacking well and putting the Black Ferns’ defence under pressure, but a stray offload from Emily Scarratt in the twentieth minute was picked off by New Zealand winger Portia Woodman, who sped down the pitch to score under the posts. Cocksedge converted, and for all their pressure, England were suddenly seven points down.

Buoyed by their score, the Black Ferns upped the intensity and put the English defence under pressure, but the Red Roses held firm and got their reward five minutes from half time. A line-out five metres from the New Zealand line provided the perfect platform to set up a rolling maul, which duly rumbled over the line. Lock Abbie Scott came up with the ball, her second try in as many games, and with Scarratt adding the extras England were back on level terms as the half ended.

The second half started as the first had finished, the Red Roses piling on the pressure in attack. Marlie Packer stormed up the field and was brought down close to the Black Ferns’ line. The ball was passed out to Katy McLean and then Lydia Thompson, who produced a brilliant hand-off to leave opposite number Portia Woodman on the floor before touching down in the corner.

With New Zealand on the back foot, the Red Roses’ forwards continued to apply pressure and they were rewarded with their second try from a rolling maul. This time, Packer came up with the ball and despite Scarratt’s missed conversion, England had a ten-point lead.

The Black Ferns, sensing the match slipping away from them, were attacking from their own half, determined to run the ball back at England. However, the weather conditions were more suited to a tight, forward-oriented game and the Red Roses’ pack worked tirelessly in defence and attack all evening.

With fourteen minutes to go England scored their fifth try, another well-organised maul off a line-out allowing replacement hooker Vicky Fleetwood to dive over the line.

The Black Ferns then scored a try through Victoria Subritzky-Nafatali, but it was too little too late; the Red Roses were well-deserved victors.

POTM: This is a hard decision because so many players had great games, especially in the forwards. Sarah Hunter, Marlie Packer, Abbie Scott and Sarah Bern were all prominent, but veteran lock Tamara Taylor just edges them. Her esteemed control of the line-out and rolling maul led to three England tries, and she grafted all evening, tackling and rucking right up to the eightieth minute – not bad for a 35-year-old. This game showed how valuable she is to this side, and what a worthy recipient of the Player of the Year Award she is.

New Zealand 21
Tries:
Cocksedge, Woodman, Subritzky-Nafatali Conversions: Cocksedge 2, Brazier

England 29
Tries: Scott, Scarratt, Thompson, Packer, Fleetwood Conversions: Scarratt 2

Watch the match highlights here!

Analysis

What a performance from the Red Roses. They not only beat the best team in the women’s game in their own back yard, but they did it convincingly.

As much as their performances in the Six Nations were impressive, England weren’t really tested too much, and even after their first match of this tour against Australia, it was still unclear how they’d react when they were under pressure – whether they’d get found out against stronger opposition, or crumble when up against it. No disrespect meant to the other Six Nations teams or Australia, but the gap between the ‘Big 3′ of New Zealand, England and Canada (and possibly Ireland and France) and the other women’s teams is sizeable, and so it was unclear how much the Red Roses had actually improved since the Autumn.

This series, then, looked set to be the perfect test – 3 matches in eight days, two of those against the best sides in the world. After a good win against Australia in the opening match and then a close win marred by errors against Canada, the Red Roses headed into the final game against the Black Ferns knowing that they needed to improve to stand a chance of beating them.

But beat them they did, out-scoring their opposition by five tries to three. They adapted to the conditions much better than their counterparts and the forwards outmuscled and out-thought their opponents for much of the game.

Once again, that driving maul was a powerful weapon and New Zealand had no answer to it. The defensive effort from the entire team was also impressive, withstanding wave after wave of attack. And when England had the ball, they stretched the Black Ferns’ defence and punched holes with strong running.

As much as the forwards impressed, the backs also put in a great performance, Emily Scarratt and Lydia Thompson in particular enhancing their reputations. Fly-half Katy McLean directed play well, and at the back, Danielle Waterman showed off her quick feet with a couple of nice breaks.

Of course, no performance is perfect and the Red Roses still have things they can improve on. For one, their poor defence around the ruck area led to Cocksedge’s try, but equally, Cocksedge is a world-class player and her finish was superb. They also gave up a rather soft try right at the end of the match, but perhaps this was in part due to fatigue after playing three high-intensity matches in less than a fortnight.

This tour has been very good for the Red Roses – aside from the fact that they return to England unbeaten, their squad depth has also proven to be extensive and their fitness levels high. There have been some brilliant individual performances over the three tests: Rachael Burford, Lydia Thompson and Abbie Scott are three players who have been particularly impressive.

England have not lost a game since November, and have beaten every other team in the top six according to the World Rankings. They are Grand Slam Champions. They are the International Series winners. Will they also be World Cup winners come August? Time will tell, but these Red Roses are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Red Roses name side for Black Ferns clash — June 16, 2017

Red Roses name side for Black Ferns clash

England have named their side to face the Black Ferns on Saturday, coach Simon Middleton making seven changes to the team which beat Canada on Wednesday.

In the backs, Rachael Burford comes in at inside centre after her fantastic display against Australia earlier in the series, and Katy McLean returns to the starting line-up at fly-half. Natasha Hunt replaces La Toya Mason at scrum-half, re-forming the half-back pairing which started the first few Six Nations games earlier in the year.

A back three of Kay Wilson, Danielle Waterman and Lydia Thompson will certainly keep the New Zealand defence on their toes, all three having performed well so far on tour.

In the pack, veteran Tamara Taylor returns to partner Abbie Scott at lock, while Sarah Bern joins Rocky Clarke and Amy Cokayne in the front row. Alex Matthews comes in at blindside flanker, replacing Harriet Millar-Mills, who moves to the bench.

“Coming into the final Test, it’s now about making sure we deliver and don’t leave anything on the field. It’s our last big game and opportunity to put in a good performance before we head back to England and focus on final preparations for the Women’s Rugby World Cup and we want to make it count.” said head coach Simon Middleton.

The Black Ferns will undoubtedly be an extremely tough opponent, but it will be a great challenge for the Red Roses. They have a wealth of experience in their side, including World Cup winners, and are on an eight-game winning streak with a Grand Slam under their belts already this year. In short, they should be full of confidence going into this game.

And they have some world class players – the likes of Emily Scarratt, Danielle Waterman, Marlie Packer, Sarah Hunter and Tamara Taylor are some of the best players in the world – and some who have really shone on this tour – Rachael Burford, Lydia Thompson and Abbie Scott to name a few – so they will certainly be a match for this New Zealand team.

However, the Black Ferns are not the number 1 side in the world for nothing. They are very talented and their ball skills are second-to-none. In scrum-half Kendra Cocksedge they have one of the most talented, electric players in the game, and the Red Roses will have to be very sharp around the ruck to stop her sniping runs. On the wing, Portia Woodman, a Sevens star, is a dangerous runner and will need to be well marked.

The last time the two sides met the Black Ferns came out on top, but the Red Roses know that they are playing some great rugby at the moment and have what it takes to beat them. Whatever happens tomorrow, this game is sure to be a spectacle.

You can watch the game live on World Rugby’s Facebook page – KO 5.15am BST, 16.15 NZ time – the curtain-raiser to the Maori All Blacks v British & Irish Lions game.

Red Roses team to play New Zealand (Saturday 17th June @ 4.15pm local time, 5.15am BST, Rotorua International Stadium, Rotorua)

15 Danielle Waterman (Bristol, 69 caps)
14 Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 33 caps)
13 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield, 68 caps)
12 Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls, 66 caps)
11 Kay Wilson (Richmond, 44 caps)
10 Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 85 caps)
9 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 36 caps)

1 Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries, 123 caps)
2 Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 27 caps)
3 Sarah Bern (Bristol, 10 caps)
4 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 104 caps)
5 Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 16 caps)
6 Alex Matthews (Richmond, 31 caps)
7 Marlie Packer (Bristol, 46 caps)
8 Sarah Hunter (c) (Bristol, 92 caps).

Replacements:

16 Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 61 caps)
17 Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls, 25 caps)
18 Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 21 caps)
19 Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 45 caps)
20 Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 31 caps)
21 La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 65 caps)
22 Amber Reed (Bristol, 38 caps)
23 Emily Scott (Saracans, 22 caps).

Red Roses earn hard-fought win against Canada — June 15, 2017

Red Roses earn hard-fought win against Canada

England have got their second win of the tour of New Zealand, but it was a much tougher test than their previous outing against Australia.

The Red Roses won 27 – 20 against a strong Canada side, scoring four tries through Lydia Thompson (2), Abbie Scott and Kay Wilson.

Their first score came after nine minutes, as Emily Scarratt took advantage of quick ball and broke from her own 22. She passed to Lydia Thompson, who showed great strength to bump off the full-back and break through another couple of tackles before being brought down about 20 metres short of Canada’s line.

A couple of phases later, a beautiful flat pass from fly-half Amber Reed put flanker Marlie Packer through a gap, and she offloaded to Abbie Scott who crossed for a try under the posts.

Canada scored their first points from a Magali Harvey penalty, but the Red Roses hit back with another try, some lovely hands from Scarratt and Waterman sending Lydia Thompson sprinting to the line.

Prop McEwen scored Canada’s first try after a series of pick-and-gos on the English line. The Red Roses defended well, but were eventually worn down by the sheer number of phases. Harvey added the extras, but Scarratt kicked a penalty for the Red Roses just before half time to make the score 15 – 10.

England started the second half well, but a pass was intercepted by Canadian Paquin, who showed good pace to go from her own 22 to the try line. Harvey again converted and the Red Roses found themselves two points behind.

They soon put that right, though, wing Lydia Thompson showing some incredible footwork and balance to beat numerous Canadian tacklers. She touched down for her second try of the game, a superb individual effort which Scarratt duly converted.

Not to be outdone, England’s other winger Kay Wilson crossed for a try on the hour mark. A good line-out win on the Canadians’ 22 metre line produced quick front-foot ball which the backs exploited, substitute Katy McLean producing a lovely offload to Emily Scarratt, who steamed through the gap and flung the pass out wide, where Wilson gathered and raced away to score in the corner.

The Canadians piled the pressure on the English defence in the last few minutes, but the Red Roses stood firm and held them out, coming away with a hard-fought 27 – 20 win.

POTM: It has to be wing Lydia Thompson for her two tries, both of which were impressive – the first showcased her raw speed, the second her incredible footwork and strength. She also helped set up England’s first try, powering her way through a couple of defenders and staying on her feet until her support arrived. She has been shifted from the starting line-up to the bench and back again a few times over the past few months as England search for their best wing combination, but she certainly proved her worth in this game and, with Amy Wilson-Hardy injured, I’d expect Thompson and Kay Wilson to be England’s first-choice wingers going into the game against New Zealand.

England 27
Tries:
Scott, Thompson 2, Wilson Cons: Scarratt 2 Pen: Scarratt

Canada 20
Tries: McEwen, Paquin Cons: Harvey 2 Pens: Harvey 2

Watch the highlights here

Analysis

This was always going to be a much tougher game than the one against Australia, and frankly, it’s what the Red Roses need. Yes, it’s fun to watch them put fifty points on the opposition, but in the long term, games like that will not help them improve, so the Canada game was a welcome challenge.

And it was a challenge that England passed, winning by seven points and outscoring their opponents by four tries to two. Their attack was at times fluid and accurate, aided by good work from the forwards at the breakdown and set piece, which produced quick ball and put the defence on the back foot. Emily Scarratt showed why she is so highly rated, making breaks and linking well with her wingers and, as mentioned above, Lydia Thompson had a stormer.

In terms of things to improve, the Red Roses should tighten up their defence around the rucks, as Canada made metres around the fringes and scored their first try after a series of pick-and-gos. Additionally, they let a few unforced errors into their game and will need to tighten up their accuracy and discipline.

The second try was a good read by the Canadian flanker who picked off the pass, and the risk of an intercept is always greater when your attacking line’s flat, so perhaps runners could stand a little deeper in the back line. That said, England should not change their style of attack, getting the ball through the hands quickly and exploiting the space out wide, as it has paid dividends for them and works very well.

The Red Roses face an even tougher challenge on Saturday when they meet New Zealand in Rotorua. It is a fantastic opportunity for them to really test themselves against the best side in the world in their own back yard and is sure to be a great spectacle.

England ring the changes for Canada test — June 12, 2017

England ring the changes for Canada test

The Red Roses have made eleven changes to the side which beat Australia on Friday as they look to record their second tour victory in New Zealand.

Regular captain Sarah Hunter returns to the starting line-up along with fellow back row Marlie Packer. A new-look front row includes Rocky Clarke, who holds the record for the most appearances for England, alongside hooker Justine Lucas and prop Amy Cokayne.

In the backs, only wing Sarah McKenna and centre Megan Jones, who impressed against Australia, retain their places. Jones moves to inside centre and is joined by Emily Scarratt at thirteen, while a new halves pairing of La Toya Mason and Amber Reed start.

Coach Simon Middleton believes squad rotation will be a key component to a successful World Cup later on in the year: “We have changed things again with selection for this game and this was always part of the plan, everyone was going to get a run out in the first two games,” said Middleton.

It will also give him a chance to try new combinations and increase competition for places, which can help push players to improve.

The Canadians will be a tough challenge for the Red Roses. The two sides last met in November 2016, where England ran out 39 – 6 winners, but the Red Roses will not be resting on their laurels. Canada were beaten finalists as England won the World Cup in 2014, and are currently the third best team in the world (behind the Black Ferns and England), so will be a step up from the Australians and a good test for this Red Roses team.

The game against Canada is available to watch live on World Rugby’s Facebook page (KO 12.30pm local time, 1.30am BST).

Red Roses team to play Canada (Tuesday 13th June @ 12.30pm local time, 1.30am BST, Christchurch)

15 Danielle Waterman (Bristol, 68 caps)
14 Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 32 caps)
13 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield, 67 caps)
12 Megan Jones (Bristol, 3 caps)
11 Sarah McKenna (Saracens, 13 caps)
10 Amber Reed (Bristol, 37 caps)
9 La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 64 caps)

1 Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries, 122 caps)
2 Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 26 caps)
3 Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 20 caps)
4 Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 15 caps)
5 Emily Braund (Lichfield, 25 caps)
6 Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 44 caps)
7 Marlie Packer (Bristol, 45 caps)
8 Sarah Hunter (c) (Bristol, 91 caps)

Replacements:    

16 Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 60 caps)
17 Vickii Cornborough (Aylsford Bulls, 24 caps)
18 Sarah Bern (Bristol, 9 caps)
19 Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 30 caps)
20 Alex Matthews (Richmond, 30 caps)
21 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 36 caps)
22 Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 84 caps)
23 Kay Wilson (Richmond, 43 caps)

Red Roses rack up half-century in win over Australia — June 10, 2017

Red Roses rack up half-century in win over Australia

The Red Roses produced a scintillating performance as they won 53 – 10 in their opening tour match against Australia in Wellington. They scored nine tries to Australia’s one, with winger Sarah McKenna crossing for a hat-trick.

However, they started badly, conceding a try after just three minutes when Aussie captain Ashleigh Hewson dummied and dived over the line. Hake’s successful conversion made the scoreline 7 – 0 to the Australians.

Five minutes later, the Red Roses scored a try of their own after a strong catch-and-drive on the Australians’ five-metre line. Flanker Izzy Noel-Smith emerged with the ball, and Emily Scott added the extras to make it 7 – 7. And barely ten minutes later England had their second try, another well-set-up driving maul powering over the line, lock Abbie Scott diving over this time.

The England backs decided it was time for them to get in on the try-scoring action, and some good hands across the back-line from McLean, Burford and Scott saw Sarah McKenna cross for her first try.

Hewson kicked a penalty for the Australians, but the Red Roses struck again just before half time. Hooker Vicky Fleetwood started it with a break down the left-hand touchline, before offloading to Abbie Scott, who was brought down on halfway. The Australian defence rushed up, but Katy McLean floated a lovely pass over their heads to Emily Scott. She offloaded to an onrushing Kay Wilson, who showed some lovely footwork to beat the full-back and touch down.

The second half started in much the same way, as inside centre Rachael Burford broke the line and drew the full-back before passing back inside to Vicky Fleetwood to score. England led by 21 points, and ten minutes later added another five, quick ball putting the retreating Australian defence on the back foot. Megan Jones passed the ball out to Harriet Millar-Mills, who produced a superb sidestep to beat the last defender and dot down for England’s sixth try.

Another try came shortly afterwards, flanker Izzy Noel-Smith making a good break to get within ten metres of the Wallaroos’ line. They conceded a penalty at the resulting breakdown, and Natasha Hunt took the quick tap. The ball was swiftly passed along the back-line and out to McKenna, who scored her second of the afternoon.

It was one-way traffic as the Red Roses scored another try a few minutes later, Tamara Taylor winning the line-out and Megan Jones getting over the advantage line on a crash ball. With quick ball, England span it out left to Sarah McKenna, who passed back inside to fellow wing Wilson. She ran in for England’s eighth try of the afternoon, Emily Scott just wide with the conversion.

The Red Roses thought they had another try after some lovely breaks from Megan Jones and Vicky Fleetwood, but the final pass to Lydia Thompson was judged to be forward. Not to be deterred, they soon had their ninth try, Rachael Burford with a lovely break and kick across to McKenna who did well to gather the ball and touch down for her hat-trick.

Scott missed the conversion, but as the final whistle blew, England were worthy winners, the final scoreline 53 – 10.

POTM: There were lots of good performances across the park for the Red Roses. Katy McLean’s distribution and timing was first class, Vicky Fleetwood was her usual lively self with some barnstorming runs, and wingers Sarah McKenna and Kay Wilson bagged five tries between them. However, my POTM is inside centre Rachael Burford. She usually plays second fiddle to Amber Reed, but her display in this match shows the depth that England have at their disposal. Her passing was spot on and she made some good breaks, beating tacklers and finding space. She also produced a lovely little kick for McKenna’s final try. Special mention goes to her centre partner Megan Jones who impressed with her strong defence and made a couple of line-breaks herself on only her third appearance.

England 53
Tries: Noel-Smith, A Scott, McKenna 3, Wilson 2, Fleetwood, Millar-Mills Cons: E Scott 4

Australia 10
Try: Hewson Con: Hake Pen: Hewson

Watch the highlights here

Analysis

A forty-three-point win is a success in anyone’s book, and what’s more satisfying is that this was an England team without some of their first-choice players. Despite conceding early, they seemed to pick up from where they left off in the Six Nations in both attack and defence. Fly-half Katy McLean showed why she has won so many caps, taking the ball to the line and distributing well. England’s swift passing in the back-line, a feature of their Six Nations campaign, allowed them to get the ball out to the wingers quickly and exploit the space out wide.

The driving maul was once again an effective weapon for the Red Roses, and the line-out, led by Tamara Taylor, was solid and provided good clean ball off the top for the backs. Vicky Fleetwood, Harriet Millar-Mills and Izzy Noel-Smith made their presence felt around the field with some great runs, and the scrum also performed well.

Defensively, England weren’t tested too much. They did let in the early try, but after that tightened up and kept the Aussies scoreless. Their line speed was good, which put Australia under pressure, and they made dominant tackles, limiting the Wallaroos’ forward motion. Although the Australians weren’t the most inventive in attack and they sometimes looked a little lost, resorting to one-out hit-ups by forwards, the Red Roses did well to make their tackles and win the collisions. They worked hard at the breakdown too, slowing down the opposition’s ball and winning a couple of turnovers.

It was a good win for the Red Roses, and a great way to start their tour. They will head into the next game against Canada full of confidence. The Canadians will undoubtedly be a tougher test, but with England playing the way they are at the moment, they should feel confident that they can beat them.

 

 

Preview: Australia v England — June 8, 2017

Preview: Australia v England

The Red Roses kick off their International Series in New Zealand tomorrow against the Wallaroos in Wellington.

The Six Nations champions have named what could be described as an experimental line-up, with regulars Emily Scarratt, Sarah Hunter, Danielle Waterman and Marlie Packer omitted from the starting team.

Fly-half Katy McLean captains the side, and she will be hoping to make a good contribution on her return to the team after being suspended for the final Six Nations games. Emily Scott, who replaced her at fly-half during the tournament, is named at full-back, while in the centres Megan Jones is set to win only her third cap.

In the forwards, Vicky Fleetwood starts at hooker, while Player of the Year Tamara Taylor is joined in the second row by Abbie Scott, making her return from injury. Harriet Millar-Mills moves from lock to blindside flanker, and Alex Matthews replaces Hunter at No. 8.

The Aussies have also named an experimental side – 11 of their squad are making their debuts, while their most experienced player, captain Ashleigh Hewson, has only made twelve test appearances. Of course, with no annual competition in the southern hemisphere, the Australians get limited test match exposure.

However, they’ve got a good ball carrier in No. 8 Victoria Latu, and coach Paul Verrell hopes to put the Red Roses under pressure at the line-out: “We’ve set them some structure and shape that we want to play, we have changed some lineouts that we also think will put some pressure back on England.”

The Red Roses should get their series off to a winning start as they have a lot more experience than the Aussies, but they could still be surprised if their opponents play more unstructured, free-flowing rugby.

In fly-half Katy McLean, the Red Roses have got a very good tactical kicker and distributor, and the forward pack is full of strong runners like Millar-Mills, Matthews and Fleetwood. The set piece will be a key feature of England’s attack – the driving maul was an extremely effective weapon during the Six Nations and against a relatively smaller and less experienced forward pack, will no doubt be used in this match.

This match should be a good test for the newer players in the Red Roses’ squad, and a win will help build confidence ahead of their matches against Canada and New Zealand in the next couple of weeks.

The match is available to watch live on World Rugby’s Facebook page (KO 12.30pm local, 1.30am BST, 10.30am AEST)

Red Roses team to play Australia (Friday 9th June @ 12.30pm local time, 1.30am BST, Porirua Park, Wellington)

15 Emily Scott (Saracens, 21 caps)
14 Kay Wilson (Richmond, 42 caps)
13 Megan Jones (Bristol, 2 caps)
12 Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls, 65 caps)
11 Sarah McKenna (Saracens, 12 caps)
10 Katy Mclean (C) (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 83 caps)
9   Leanne Riley (Aylesford Bulls, 9 caps)

1 Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls, 23 caps)
2 Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens, 59 caps)
3 Sarah Bern (Bristol, 8 caps)
4 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 103 caps)
5 Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 14 caps)
6 Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield, 43 caps)
7 Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol, 29 caps)
8 Alex Matthews (Richmond, 29 caps)

Replacements:    

16 Amy Cokayne (Lichfield, 25 caps)
17 Justine Lucas (Lichfield, 19 caps)
18 Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks, 7 caps)
19 Emily Braund (Lichfield, 24 caps)
20 Sarah Hunter (Bristol, 90 caps)
21 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield, 35 caps)
22 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield, 66 caps)
23 Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries, 31 caps)

 

Player in Focus: Emily Scarratt — May 30, 2017

Player in Focus: Emily Scarratt

With the upcoming June series fast approaching and the World Cup just two months after that, it’s time to start digging deep into the Red Roses’ foundations and examine the players who will be key to their efforts in the next few months.

First up is probably the most well-known female rugby player in England – Emily Scarratt. A stalwart of the side for many years now, and a world-class player, she is a vital member of the Red Roses’ back-line.

Vital Stats:

Position: Centre, fullback
Caps: 66
Points: 362
Debut: 2008 (v USA)
Club team: Lichfield
Age: 27

Skills

Passing: Scarratt played in the centres throughout England’s recent Six Nations campaign and had a hand in an awful lot of their tries, often providing the try-scoring pass. England’s first-choice 10 and 12, Katy McLean and Amber Reed, are also good passers, but Scarratt’s timing is first-class. She knows when to fire the pass out to the winger immediately, but also when to hold onto it a bit longer and draw in defenders before releasing the ball.

In the example below against France, Scarratt receives the ball in plenty of space, with two attackers outside her:

scarratt pass one

The French defence is stretched, with a winger just off screen the only other defender on the right hand side, but there’s cover coming across in the shape of the full-back and replacement scrum-half. Additionally, Scarratt’s opposite number is pretty speedy, and would easily make up the ground needed to tackle her, and the player outside Scarratt is a forward, so not the quickest person on the field – in short, France have just about got the situation under control.

Scarratt, rather than throw a cut-out pass to Wilson-Hardy, who would then have to beat both the winger and the cover from the full-back, runs hard right at the winger. She’s in two minds about whether to trust her inside defender or drift across, but Scarratt spots her hesitancy and makes the decision for her, targeting her. Her run fixes the winger, and she and the outside centre combine to tackle Scarratt.

Scarratt pass two

But the England centre gets the ball away just before the tackle comes in, and Wilson-Hardy steps the desperate cover defence to score.

scarratt pass 3

This example highlights Scarratt’s decision-making as well as her passing skills, as she forces the winger to make the wrong decision by running hard at her, thus allowing Wilson-Hardy an easier run-in.

Running: Scarratt’s running game is also first class, and her long legs allow her to eat up the ground and power her way through traffic. Her size means she’s a good crash-ball option, and because she’s also got such a good pass, she keeps defenders guessing as to whether she’ll take the ball into contact or not. It often takes two or even three to bring her down, which inevitably creates holes in the defensive line for the Red Roses to exploit.

And even when she doesn’t get the ball, because she’s such a powerful runner she still sucks in defenders. England’s back-line is certainly less dangerous when Scarratt’s not on the field – no one attracts the defence’s attention as much as she does.

Defence: As you’d expect from someone of Scarratt’s quality, her tackling is top-class and she rarely misses. The outside centre is the most important and most challenging defensive position on the field, and players need to be extremely good at reading the oppposition’s attacks. Luckily for England, Scarratt excels in this area – her rugby brain is second-to-none.

Kicking: Scarratt is the Red Roses’ goal-kicker, and while she had some off days in the Six Nations, she is still a solid option. She has a big boot on her, so with a little more accuracy should be able to slot them over from almost anywhere in the opposition’s half.  Furthermore, her kicking from hand, particularly low grubber kicks downfield for her wingers to chase, is yet another string to her bow.

 

Scarratt is one of England’s key players and is likely to play a very important part in the Red Roses’ upcoming tour to New Zealand and the World Cup. She has a whole range of skills, and her size means that she can play as a crash-ball centre as well as a distributor. The only aspect of her game which could be improved is her goal-kicking, but she is certainly one of the best players in the world at the moment and a key part of England’s success.

Red Roses Name Squad for New Zealand Tour — May 26, 2017

Red Roses Name Squad for New Zealand Tour

England have named a 28-strong squad for the summer tour to New Zealand.

Sarah Hunter remains captain after guiding the Red Roses to a Grand Slam in this year’s Six Nations, and the vast majority of the squad who competed in the tournament have been selected for this tour.

Locks Emily Braund and Abbie Scott return after long injury layoffs, but Claire Allan, Poppy Cleall, Laura Keates, Fiona Pocock, and Amy Wilson Hardy have been ruled out of selection as a result of injury.

The Red Roses will play three matches in New Zealand – against Australia (9th June), Canada (13th June) and the hosts (17th June). Their final game will be the curtain-raiser for the British & Irish Lions match against the Maori All Blacks.

This is an important series for the Red Roses ahead of the Rugby World Cup in August, as they look to test themselves against the best rugby teams in the women’s game.

Head coach Simon Middleton said: “The tight turnaround of games replicates the World Cup schedule and we expect to encounter a great atmosphere which will provide players with the best possible preparation for [the World Cup in] Ireland. The squad have been training together for the last six weeks and I am looking forward to seeing them translate their hard work into first-class performances on the pitch.”

Red Roses Squad for the Tour to New Zealand

Forwards:

Sarah Bern (Bristol), Emily Braund (Lichfield), Rochelle Clark (Worcester Valkyries), Amy Cokayne (Lichfield), Vickii Cornborough (Aylesford Bulls), Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens), Sarah Hunter (Bristol), Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Justine Lucas (Lichfield), Alex Matthews (Richmond), Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield), Izzy Noel-Smith (Bristol), Marlie Packer (Bristol), Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)

Backs:

Rachael Burford (Aylesford Bulls), Natasha Hunt (Lichfield), Megan Jones (Bristol), La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Sarah McKenna (Saracens), Katy Mclean (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Amber Reed (Bristol), Leanne Riley (Aylesford Bulls), Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), Emily Scott (Saracens), Lydia Thompson (Worcester Valkyries), Danielle Waterman (Bristol), Kay Wilson (Richmond)