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.
Tries: Noel-Smith, A Scott, McKenna 3, Wilson 2, Fleetwood, Millar-Mills Cons: E Scott 4
Try: Hewson Con: Hake Pen: Hewson
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.