England National Academy edged a closely fought encounter at Esher RFC on Tuesday evening, outscoring the visiting Maple Leafs seven tries to five to win by 37-29.
Two early scores from the Maple Leafs gave the visitors control of early proceedings, backs Emma Jada and Natasha Smith crossing within fifteen minutes of kick-off.
England found their stride soon after, executing a solid catch and drive before centre Rachel Lund made strides towards the line, offloading to wing Deborah Flemming who scored England’s first try out wide.
A second score to match Canada’s earlier efforts came soon after with newcomer Lotte Clapp orchestrating the counter attack, drawing in the final defender to put Bianca Blackburn clear to score. Lauren Cattell missed her second conversion attempt of the night, leaving the Canadians with a two point lead 10-12.
Two further tries came with ten minutes remaining in the first half in a game of end-to-end rugby. Canada extended their lead by seven points, Emma Jada securing her second of the night after some impressive footwork put her clear.
England responded three minutes later, opting for touch after a penalty handed them advantage. A catch and drive allowed Abi Walker to dive over, putting England within two points of the Maple Leafs 17-15.
Canada started the second half much like the first, an early score through captain Cindy Nelles and subsequent conversion from Patrinos putting the visitors nine points clear.
It was twenty minutes before a ninth try was scored. Aggressive defence from England led to a penalty being awarded to the home side before another catch and drive enabled Poppy Leitch to cross the white wash. Cattell was unable to add the extras and left England trailing by four points.
Hope of a comeback for the home side was slowly fading as Canada pulled away again five minutes later, recycling quick ball from midfield to see Alex Tessier score. 29-20.
In an enthralling final 12 minutes, however, England would score three tries to edge the victory, centre Lauran Cattell, Poppy Leitch – who added to her early efforts – and replacement Vickii Cornborough all contributing to England’s try scoring tally.
With the scoreboard against them, England showed good continuity and handling, playing with high tempo, Leanne Riley’s offloading to Lauren Cattell on the blindside put the centre clear and England within four-points of Canada. 29-25
Poppy Leitch was the woman to put England ahead for the first time in the game with only six minutes remaining, producing a copy of her earlier efforts with a well-executed catch and drive off an attacking line-out. Cattell missed the extras but England now lead by a single point as the game closed out. 29-30
With a minute remaining, a final score to total 12 tries in the game was to come with England growing in determination after trailing for the majority of the game.
Quick hands in the midfield freed up Holly Myers to race clear down the touchline, making a well-timed inside pass to Sydney Gregson, who showed good strength, enabling quick recycling of the ball. A series of strong pick and goes allowed Vickii Cornborough to power over from five metres out and with Cattle’s conversion, giving England an impressive 37-29 victory.
England Lead XVs Coach Scott Bemand said after the game: “The purpose of the National Academy is to play credible fixtures with both aspects of performance and development in mind.
“The game provided a tough fixture against a strong Canada Maple Leafs squad that the girls had to find a way to win and in way that they were able to express what they were about as players. Last time we played a fixture like this in 2011 the squad contained a number of players who went on to win the 2014 World Cup.
“It will be exciting to see the next generation again on Saturday where we know we will face another strong test, giving players an excellent opportunity to put their hands up for future selection.”
England will play the Maple Leafs on Saturday, December 5 at Esher Rugby Club, kick-off 2pm. Tickets available on the gate.
England National Academy
Sydney Gregson (Bristol); Debs Fleming (Saracens), Rachel Lund (Worcester), Lauren Cattell (Saracens), Lotte Clapp (Saracens); La Toya Mason (Darlington Mowden Park), Bianca Blackburn (Worcester); Heather Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park), Lark Davies (Worcester), Justine Lucas (Lichfield), Zoe Saynor (Richmond), Courtney Gill (Worcester), Poppy Cleall (Saracens), Abbie Walker (Worcester), Abbie Scott (Darlington Mowden Park)
Replacements: Clara Nielson (Bristol), Vickii Cornborough (Richmond), Bee Dawson (Wasps), Zoe Aldcroft (Darlington Mowden Park), Poppy Leitch (Bristol), Leanne Riley (Richmond), Natasha Jones (Lichfield), Lucy Demaine (Whitland), Holly Myers (Richmond)
Tries: Deborah Fleming, Bianca Blackburn, Abi Walker, Poppy Leitch (2) Lauren Cattel, Vikkii Cornborough
Conv: Lauren Cattel
Canadian Maple Leafs:
Demi Stamatakis, Kristy Sargent, Daleaka Menin, Tyson Beukeboom, Camille Provençal-Aubei, Fabiola Forteza, Katie Syoboda, Cindy Nelles (c), Chelsea Guthrie, Jess Neilson, Emma Jada, Alex Tessier, Natasha Smith, Frederique Rajotte, Irene Patrinos, Britanny Priddle, Simone Savary, Chelsea Minter, Janai Houpapa, Gabrielle Senft, Lori Josphson, Mackenzie Higgs, Amanda Williams
Tries: Emma Jada (2), Natasha Smith, Cindy Nelles, Alex Tessier
Conv: Irene Patrinos
Report courtesy of England Rugby