England have started the new season in fine form as they beat a fallow Canada side 79 – 5. The Red Roses scored twelve tries in all, with six from debutante Jess Breach, who had a storming game on the left wing.
However, they got off to a bit of a slow start despite Marlie Packer being denied a try in the opening minutes due to some good Canadian defence on the line. The visitors were doing a good job of disrupting English ball at the breakdown, and they were certainly dominant in the scrum. However, the Red Roses looked to be in an attacking mood and after some good work by Poppy Cleall at the scrum, the ball came out to Breach on the wing, who raced past her opposite number to score in the corner.
Centre Rachael Burford was next over the whitewash after a Marlie Packer break and a nice offload from her midfield partner Amber Reed. Reed converted and the Red Roses were 12 – 0 up and looking very comfortable.
England had their third try straight from the kick-off, Daley-Mclean taking the ball to the line and delivering a flat ball to an onrushing Packer who stormed up the pitch, shrugging off defenders. Quick work at the breakdown saw the ball again spun out to Breach, who scored her second of the evening.
Breach was in again eight minutes later when Burford passed the ball behind three England forwards running dummy lines, to Daley-Mclean. She passed it to the winger who ran in for her hat-trick.
For all England’s dominance, though, Canada were able to get into the game a bit more towards the end of the first half and off the back of their dominant scrum made their way deep into England’s half with some nice breaks and broken-field running. Unfortunately, a handling error cost them possession, and that error was compounded when the Red Roses scored again after Cleall pounced on the loose ball. This time it was wing Abigail Dow who touched down, stepping the defender to score on the stroke of half time. With Reed converting, the score was 29 – 0.
The Red Roses continued where they left off after half time, Breach scoring her fourth off an England scrum in the Canadian 22. Cleall fed the winger, who picked her run perfectly, gliding between the 10 channel and the scrum and scoring under the posts.
The next England try went to hooker Amy Cokayne after some patient build-up from the Red Roses and better Canadian defence. Breach got her fifth a couple of minutes later after the England forwards turned the ball over at the maul and some lovely offloads saw the ball once again make it into the left wing’s hands. She showed great footwork and confidence to outdo her opposite number and score yet again, and by now England had scored 46 unanswered points.
And the Red Roses added another five to that total four minutes later after a great maul saw Marlie Packer score a well-deserved try.
Things were looking pretty ominous for Canada, but they produced a try of their own after a series of pick and drives on the English try line saw No. 8 Cindy Nelles crash over. Although the try was unconverted, the Canadians at least had something to show for their endeavors and certainly deserved the try.
However, the Red Roses were soon back up the other end and adding to their try tally, Breach’s fellow debutante and winger Abigail Dow pouncing on a loose ball after a Burford tackle and racing in to score. Reed converted to make the score 60 – 5.
With fifteen minutes to go, Breach had her sixth try. A cross-field kick from replacement fly-half Zoe Harrison was fumbled by Canadian wing Farries and Breach was there to pick up the loose ball and score again.
And the other replacements showed their attacking prowess, some good work up the blindside from Kildunne almost seeing Dow score, before prop Rocky Clarke burrowed over from close range.
With five minutes left to play, the Red Roses made sure to score one more try, this one going to Kildunne. Breach was the provider this time, beating the outside centre before popping the ball back inside to the replacement to add yet another score to England’s total. With Harrison adding the extras, the game finished 79 – 5 to the Red Roses.
England 79 (29)
Tries: Breach (6), Burford, Dow (2), Cokayne, Packer, Clark, Kildunne Cons: Reed (5), Harrison (2)
Canada 5 (0)
POTM: There are plenty to choose from including Daley-Mclean, Reed, Burford, Cleall and Cokayne to name a few. Marlie Packer was fantastic once again, her line breaks particularly in the first half setting up a couple of England tries, and she earned a couple of turnovers at the breakdown too. However, my POTM goes to winger Jess Breach. Scoring six tries isn’t too bad in terms of a debut performance, but she had to work for them and her raw speed, footwork, timing and awareness were all on display. At only twenty years old, she is certainly a fantastic long-term prospect for the Red Roses.
Well, that performance certainly proved that England are in fine form after their disappointment at the World Cup. The free-flowing, organised attacking play which we all know and love about the Red Roses was on full display, and their ability to get front-foot ball and then exploit the space out wide was very good.
While a twelve-try haul is usually a chance to wax lyrical about England’s back division, I will take this opportunity to praise the forwards. The Red Roses’ forward pack are not only very good at the set-piece (e.g. their extremely effective mauling this year), but their play in the loose, particularly ball handling, passing and support play, is fantastic and was in full evidence in this game. Players such as Marlie Packer and Amy Cokayne are a real asset to the Red Roses’ attack, and they proved that tonight with plenty of strong runs. They’re not afraid to join the back-line, passing, running and supporting the player with the ball, just as ready to receive an offload as they are to join the ruck. This is a real strength for the Red Roses, as it means that everyone is looking to keep the ball alive, to run into space rather than look for contact, and allows them to turn half breaks into scoring opportunities.
But what will please head coach Simon Middleton the most, I suspect, is the performances of the debutantes. I’ve already discussed try-scoring sensation Jess Breach, but her fellow wing Abigail Dow, although not afforded the same opportunities down her wing, still scored twice and proved her worth.
Those who came on also impressed, the likes of Harrison, Kildunne and Shaunagh Brown in particular proving their worth. Indeed, it was telling that despite all the inexperience which joined the field in the latter stages, the Red Roses did not suffer their customary third-quarter slump, which goes to show that the replacements did not allow the intensity to drop.
There were some things which could be improved before the next game on Tuesday. Retaining the ball at the ruck was a concern, particularly in the first half, and the scrum was out-muscled, with Poppy Cleall regularly having to tidy up at the back.
However, England should feel very positive about the first game of the series. While the Canadian team were very inexperienced, the Red Roses can take pride from the fact that they produced a clinical eighty-minute performance and their young debutantes showed that the future of English women’s rugby is looking very bright indeed.