The Red Roses started their 2021 Women’s Six Nations campaign with a bonus-point 52-10 win over Scotland in Doncaster.
Simon Middleton’s charges ran in eight tries at Castle Park, home of Championship side Doncaster Knights, to get their Women’s Six Nations title defence off to the perfect start.
It was blistering from the outset as the Red Roses put Scotland under immediate pressure, forcing them into early defence. The visitors were able to absorb the attempts at their try line however.
Neat offloading from Bryony to Poppy Cleall was the catalyst behind England’s opening try on the 10-minute mark. Their fantastic interlinking saw Zoe Aldcroft brought down just shy of the whitewash, but Marlie Packer was on hand to break through the middle of the resulting ruck and power over. Emily Scarratt added the extras.
Potent attack continued and seven minutes later scrum half Leanne Riley sniped at the base of a five-metre ruck to claim England’s second score, though Scarratt was unsuccessful with the conversion.
Fly half Helen Nelson put Scotland on the scoreboard courtesy of an easy three-pointer, but England’s response was emphatic. Hooker Lark Davies surged over from a trademark rolling maul, before Bryony Cleall – making a second appearance since her debut two years ago – marked her return to international duty with a score, and in doing so secured England’s bonus-point.
As half time approached, Jess Breach collected a Helena Rowland cross-field kick, and showed sublime pace to canter over. Scarratt converted all three tries, making it 33-3 at the break.
The Red Roses started the second half with the same intensity as they had ended the first, and it saw fly half Rowland dart over for her first Test try after three minutes. Breach was unleashed down the left flank, jinking around defenders, before turning to assist the onrushing Rowland. Scarratt’s extras brought up a personal milestone of 600 points.
A Poppy Cleall yellow card handed Scotland a one player advantage, and they were able to immediately capitalise through a Hannah Smith try, converted by Nelson. The Red Roses went down to 13 players on the 57-minute mark, Davies sin binned for a high tackle, and then Scotland replacement Molly Wright was shown a red card for making head contact with her shoulder.
Returning to the field, Poppy Cleall joined her sister on the scoreboard in the 70th minute, the benefactor off the back of a five metre rolling maul. It was Poppy Cleall’s fifteenth Test score. England were awarded a penalty try with two minutes remaining after Louise McMillan brought down a promising rolling maul, rounding out a comprehensive victory. The Red Roses have now won their last 23 meetings against Scotland.
Head coach Simon Middleton said: “I was really pleased with the first half.
“Our intensity was what we wanted particularly defensively, and our ruck speed gave us the attacking tempo we talked about. I thought we were outstanding for the majority of the first half. We got ourselves into a position where we wanted to be in the game but then didn’t kick on. It got a bit fractious and became stop start in the end and I’m a little disappointed in the second half.
“Poppy Cleall was brilliant. Her all-round impact is sensational.
“I thought Zoe Aldcroft was exceptional, she’s such a consistent player. Bryony Cleall can bring something different and I’m really pleased for her. In the main everyone who came back went well. Cath O’Donnell gave us great go-forward which is what Cath does.
“We know we have plenty to work on. We’ll have a look at the penalty count, what they were for and there’ll definitely be some areas we need to smarten up in terms of our discipline. There are lots of lessons for us, one of them being how to refocus and regain momentum and control when the game starts to break up and drift. We have plenty to work on for sure.
“I was really pleased with our set piece, our lineout defence in particular was hugely effective and our lineout attack grew into the game. Our drive needs to become more ruthless close to the opposition line but that goes for all our attacking game.
“I thought our scrum went well given the amount of live and competitive scrummaging the forwards have been able to get through.
“Scotland were terrific in terms of tenancity and they asked a lot of us in defence and it wasn’t until the end of the first half where we got away from them.
“We’ll start our recovery tonight, and do more tomorrow. We’ll review the game and begin our preparations at Pennyhill Park next week before we head to Italy.”
RED ROSES:15. Sarah McKenna, 14. Lydia Thompson, 13. Emily Scarratt (c), 12. Lagi Tuima, 11. Jess Breach, 10. Helena Rowland, 9. Leanne Riley, 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Bryony Cleall, 4. Abbie Ward, 5. Cath O’Donnell, 6. Zoe Aldcroft, 7. Marlie Packer,
8. Poppy Cleall.
FINISHERS:16. Amy Cokayne, 17. Detysha Harper, 18. Shaunagh Brown, 19. Harriet Millar-Mills, 20. Vicky Fleetwood, 21. Claudia MacDonald, 22. Megan Jones, 23. Ellie Kildunne.
SCOTLAND:15. Chloe Rollie, 14. Rachel Shankland, 13. Hannah Smith (Watsonians), 12. Lisa Thomson, 11. Megan Gaffney, 10. Helen Nelson, 9. Mairi McDonald, 1. Leah Bartlett, 2. Lana Skeldon, 3. Christine Belisle, 4. Emma Wassell, 5. Louise McMillan, 6. Rachel Malcolm (C), 7. Rachel McLachlan, 8. Siobhan Cattigan.
REPLACEMENTS:16. Molly Wright, 17. Panashe Muzambe, 18. Lisa Cockburn, 19. Evie Gallagher, 20. Jodie Rettie, 21. Jenny Maxwell, 22. Sarah Law, 23.