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
Tries: Scott, Scarratt, Thompson, Packer, Fleetwood Conversions: Scarratt 2
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.