England scored another ten tries in their second World Cup pool match against Italy on Sunday afternoon, although a series of handling errors took the sheen off the win and left them with plenty to work on.
In fact they could have had two or three tries in the opening minutes, but knock-ons from Marlie Packer and Amy Wilson Hardy, both with the try-line in their sights, meant England came up with nothing to show for their early dominance.
The opening ten minutes was almost all played in the Italians’ half, but England were their own worst enemies. When Italy did get the ball back, their kicking let them down and one such clearance was caught by full-back Danielle Waterman, who proceeded to step past three Italians and break the line. The ball came out to Emily Scarratt, who showed great strength to hold off an Italian defender and score the opening try. She missed the conversion, but at least the Red Roses were on the board after their early pressure.
Alex Matthews scored the Red Roses’ second try after winger Amy Wilson Hardy sliced through the heart of the Italian defence, showing great pace. Matthews, on the shoulder of fly-half Amber Reed, ran a good line and went straight through the gap between two front row players to run in under the posts. Scarratt converted and the Red Roses led 12 – 0.
They wouldn’t have it all their own way though, as shortly after that score Italy kicked a penalty and then scored a try of their own. They were patient and accurate, pulling the English defence from one side of the pitch to the other. When the ball was spun wide, the Italians made the most of the overlap they’d created and winger Magatti dived over to score. Although the conversion was missed, the Italians were right back in the game and deservedly so, the score 12 – 8 after twenty minutes.
This seemed to galvanise the Red Roses somewhat, and they turned to their hugely successful rolling maul which once again marched up the field. The backs then repaid their forwards’ hard work with a good back-line try, winger Lydia Thompson scoring in the corner. With the conversion again missed, England led 17 – 8.
The Red Roses were playing well in fits and starts, but their handling let them down and they wasted several opportunities as the first half came to a close. However, they did manage to secure the bonus-point try just before the half ended. Back row players Matthews and Packer both had strong runs, before the ball was whipped out to the right where three England players stood unmarked. Hooker Amy Cokayne was the one who got the ball, and she dotted down for an easy score. Scarratt missed the conversion, but England left the pitch leading 22 – 8.
The start of the second half saw a change in fly-half, as Katy McLean replaced Rachael Burford and Amber Reed shifted out to inside centre. McLean immediately got the attack ticking along nicely, and the Red Roses looked much more organised with her at the helm. A nice inside ball to Marlie Packer and a good pass from the replacement saw Tamara Taylor go over three minutes into the second half.
And McLean was at it again a few minutes later, just holding onto the ball for a fraction of a second to hold the defence before popping the pass to an onrushing Emily Scarratt, who ran a lovely line and scored her second try of the afternoon. She failed to convert her try, but England were starting to look very dangerous.
Italian full-back Furlan obviously decided to prove that the Italians weren’t beaten yet, and when she spotted two props in front of her, she promptly darted between them and set off downfield. The Italians earned a penalty for an early tackle and kicked to touch, before giving England a taste of their own medicine and setting up a maul which the Red Roses did well to stop. The danger hadn’t passed, though, and a few pick-and-drives later lock Giordano went over for the Italians’ second score. The conversion was missed, but England now led 34 – 13.
The Red Roses replied almost immediately with their sixth try of the afternoon, Packer and Matthews again with good runs into the heart of the Italian defence. Scarratt nearly went in for her hat-trick after another well-timed inside ball from McLean, but quick hands down the short side saw Waterman power over to score. The conversion was yet again missed, and England led 39 – 13 with twenty-five minutes still to play.
And Waterman added her second try a couple of minutes later. She got the ball in space and had Wilson Hardy outside her, but didn’t need her as she dummied and then stepped inside the full back to score under the posts. Amber Reed converted the score, a welcome relief for all concerned after the poor quality of most of the conversion attempts in this match.
England continued to pressure the Italians, the half pairing of McLean and Mason directing play well. With five minutes to go, another piece of Waterman brilliance sparked an England attack, showing her strength as she handed off a couple of defenders and broke the line. The ball was recycled and spun out wide, where centre Megan Jones took a half step which held the outside defender, then passed to wing Lydia Thompson who ran in to score England’s ninth try of the afternoon.
And they managed to squeeze in one more try before the final whistle blew, this one a fantastic team effort. Good, accurate passing from both forwards and backs allowed the Red Roses to move the ball swiftly from one side of the pitch to the other, making their way methodically up to the Italians’ try line. Another inside ball from McLean, this time to Wilson Hardy, split the Italians open once again and the winger ran in to score. The conversion was once again missed, but England had more than enough points in the end, winning 56 – 13.
England 56 (13)
Tries: Scarratt (2), Matthews, Thompson (2), Cokayne, Taylor, Waterman (2), Wilson Hardy. Conversions: Scarratt (2) Reed, Thompson
Italy 13 (13)
Tries: Magatti, Giordano Pens: Schiavon
POTM: Danielle Waterman had a fantastic game, her pace and footwork sparking many an England attack. Her ability to beat defenders is ridiculous at times, and she finds space in the tightest of areas. Katy McLean again had a great game – she took the ball to the line and her flat passes to the likes of Alex Matthews and Marlie Packer allowed the back row to run rampant in that second half. The difference in attack with her at the helm was pretty vast, and she is certainly an incredibly valuable player for the Red Roses at the moment. But my POTM actually goes to two players this week – back rowers Marlie Packer and Alex Matthews. Both were superb in attack – not only are they big, strong runners, but they are incredibly intelligent players; they are so good at picking their running lines, and are so often on the ball-carrier’s shoulder, ready to receive an offload. Packer was also busy in defence, winning a few turnovers at the breakdown.
Well, England scored another ten tries and the scoreline suggests that they dominated the Italians. However, for large portions of the first half, and even into the second half, the Red Roses were well below the level that we’ve come to expect from them in recent months. Basic handling errors just killed their momentum and poor passing stunted their attack. They were also a bit sloppy at the breakdown, allowing the Italians to disrupt their ball and thus slow down their attack.
Starting fly-half Amber Reed also struggled somewhat to get her back-line going, and while she actually had a solid game, the difference when McLean came on showed what England had been lacking in that play-maker role.
Place kicking remains a big issue – neither Scarratt, McLean or Reed have shown much aptitude for taking kicks so far, and hopefully they will spend the next two days practicing conversions from dawn to dusk.
Anyway, onto the positives. The line-out improved enormously from last game’s almost shambolic performance. The return of Tamara Taylor showed what England had been lacking in terms of a real leader at the line-out, and combined with the accurate throwing of Amy Cokayne meant that the Red Roses got clean ball off the top to either pass out to the backs or set up their rolling maul – a much better state of affairs than last game, where just retaining possession was beyond the capabilities of the English line-out at times.
The back row were stand-out performers, all three having great games. Marlie Packer was typically industrious, winning turnovers and rampaging through the Italian defence, Izzy Noel-Smith worked tirelessly at the breakdown, and Alex Matthews was very impressive in attack. Amy Cokayne also had a good game, as did Waterman and Scarratt in the backs, and young Megan Jones continues to impress.
All in all, it was a mixed performance from the Red Roses. For most of the second half they looked in fine form, the replacement backs and McLean in particular making a big difference to the attack. The fact that they remembered how to catch and pass also helped, but they cannot afford to make so many basic errors as they did in the first half again this tournament, as the better teams will certainly punish them more than Italy did.