‘One of the biggest challenges in the women’s game’ – (Adam Griggs, Ireland’s Head Coach)
England v Ireland – Twickenham November 24 2018
15. Sarah McKenna (Saracens) 15. Lauren Delany (Firwood Waterloo Ladies/IQ Rugby)
14. Lydia Thompson (Valkyries) 14. Eimear Considine (UL Bohemians/Munster)
13. Carys Williams (Lightning) 13. Sene Naoupu (Old Belvedere/Leinster – capt)
12. Tatyana Heard (Glos-Hartpury) 12. Michelle Claffey (Blackrock/Leinster)
11. Kelly Smith (Glos-Hartpury) 11. Laura Sheehan (UL Bohemians/Munster)
10. Zoe Harrison (Saracens) 10. Nikki Caughey (Railway Union/Leinster)
9. Leanne Riley (Quins) 9. Nicole Cronin (UL Bohemians/Munster)
1. Vickii Cornborough (Quins) 1. Lindsay Peat (Railway Union/Leinster)
2. Heather Kerr (DMP) 2. Emma Hooban (St. Mary’s/Leinster)
3. Hannah Botterman (Saracens) 3. Leah Lyons (Harlequins)
4. Zoe Aldcroft (Glos-Hartpury) 4. Aoife McDermott (Railway Union/Leinster)
5. Abbie Scott (Quins) 5. Nichola Fryday (Galwegians/Connacht)
6. Poppy Cleall (Saracens) 6. Jeamie Deacon (Blackrock/Leinster)
7. Vicky Fleetwood (Saracens) 7. Claire Molloy (Wasps)
8. Sarah Hunter (Lightning – capt) 8. Juliet Short (Railway Union/Leinster) *
16. Lark Davies (Valkyries) 16. Sarah Mimnagh (Richmond/IQ Rugby)
17. Ellena Perry (Saracens) 17. Laura Feely (Galwegians/Connacht)
18. Shaunagh Brown (Quins) 18. Fiona Reidy (UL Bohemians/Munster)
19. Cath O’Donnell (Lightning) 19. Claire McLaughlin (Old Belvedere/Ulster)
20. Marlie Packer (Saracens) 20. Edel McMahon (Galwegians/Connacht)
21. Claudia Macdonald (Wasps) 21. Ailsa Hughes (Railway Union/Leinster)
22. Katy Daley-Mclean (Lightning) 22. Ellen Murphy (Old Belvedere/Leinster) *
23. Rachael Burford (Quins) 23. Beibhinn Parsons (Ballinasloe/Connach
Simon Middleton saw this third Quilter international as his last chance to view the squad under test match pressure before the contracts are awarded. Hence, no question of putting out the strongest XV he could muster. He would need to watch the less familiar faces operating together again.
Even so, it was fascinating to see four players start for the third time running, Sarah McKenna, Kelly Smith, Leanne Riley and Abbie Scott. Did these selections reflect a paucity of choice in those positions or the knowledge that other prime suspects will come (back) into the fray next year? The one late injury, Abby Dow, was replaced by a centre, Millie Wood, who had to play the Canada game on that right wing.
The game was memorable for two benchers: Rachael Burford reached 81 caps and Marlie Packer 60. Both made invaluable contributions to the England cause in the second half – just as they have throughout their distinguished careers.
This was another double-header, with the women’s game placed after the men’s. Though a healthy 10,000 watched, this figure was 2.000 fewer than the corresponding figure last year. If the women’s game had been placed first?
Ireland push the Red Roses hard
This was the match the crowd and the two managements had hoped for. England spent long periods tackling their hearts out as swarms of green shirts drove at them. The two tries they leaked just before half-time sent them inside wondering what had hit them. A 15-10 scoreline was far from what they had anticipated.
The game started quite differently. It took Ireland eleven minutes to invade the English half, and that was only thanks to a penalty kick to touch. English supporters rejoiced as the pack got the scoreboard turning: a catch and drive allowed Heather Kerr to claim the first points in the right corner.
Then the purists got their fill: the Irish handed possession over and the ball was swung left to Kelly Smith who ran in to add to her growing haul of tries.
It would be amusing but pointless to tot up the number of tries scored by English No 11s in the last two years: think of Kay Wilson’s seven against Scotland, then her four against Spain; add in Jess Breach’s eleven in two outings this time last year; and now Smith manages a score in all three Quilter tests.
At this stage the Irish were taking a battering – literally. Within nine minutes they lost both Nikki Caughey (fly-half) and Emma Hooban (hooker) to injury. England piled on the pressure. Two consecutive TMO interventions denied them tries as they commanded possession and territory. First the ball was lost as an attack crossed the line, then another drive was thwarted by the decision ‘held-up’.
It was third time lucky when yet another catch and drive allowed Vickii Cornborough to plant the ball over the line. The game was looking distinctly one-sided now.
Half-time was approaching as Ireland crossed the English 22 for the first time. They made excellent use of the position. To England’s horror, they posted not one, but two tries to redress the balance through Eimear Considine and Lauren Delaney.
Marlie Packer replaced her Sarries’ team-mate Poppy Cleall for the second half. Ireland went on the attack but the hosts were saved by two relieving penalties. A good twenty minutes elapsed before Zoe Harrison planted an exquisite rolling kick into the right corner. Lydia Thompson made sure she arrived first.
Now Katy Daley-Mclean came riding into town to ensure victory. She got the line moving with verve. Thompson sensed a chance coming and moved even wider on her wing. An outstanding floated miss-pass by Rachael Burford – is there a better passer in the world game? – gave her all the room she needed and she ran in from a distance for her second.
Ireland pressed again, inspired by Claire Molloy. She went over to cap another tremendous performance. In the last quarter English fitness prevailed. Well-timed passes brought the ball to Thompson again (though she had to reach low to accept her offering) and she claimed her hat-trick, a deserved reward for England’s most experienced three-quarter.
It was good to see England finishing well on top – too often in recent years they have let the opposition off the hook and allowed them a final flourish. Here, Daley-Mclean started a move that finished with Cath O’Donnell storming over the line. Only now, in the 82nd minute, was a conversion successful. KD-M again.
So Adam Griggs’ prediction applied equally well to England – they faced a real challenge in this contest. Final score: 37-15
Three wins out of three were just what Simon Middleton wanted and the fans expected. All through the series he was intent on discovering what the possibilities were in the squad he selected. The newcomers all had their good moments, showing why they had been elevated to this level. But there are weaknesses that will have to be addressed.
For example, it’s still difficult to see why Shaunagh Brown was tasked with switching to tight-head. In two consecutive matches the England scrum jolted backwards as soon as she came on as a replacement. It would have been rewarding to see her operating in the No 6 shirt, alongside Packer and Hunter. England already have Sarah Bern and the highly promising Hannah Botterman – and, we must hope, a restored Laura Keates – to compete for the front row position.
A significant point of weakness in selection appeared unexpectedly at scrum-half. Claudia Macdonald was given a huge boost in being chosen as the back-up to Leanne Riley. But not once was she allowed to start a game, so this is an unfulfilled experiment.
With the World Cup still a distant three years away, this isn’t a grave matter. By contrast, those professional contracts are steaming ever closer. No doubt the management has precise knowledge of who is available for selection and who isn’t. The rest of us must wait impatiently till the New Year to learn the results of their deliberations.
Player of the Match: Lydia Thompson (close-run decision with the injured Sarah Bern, who excelled with her pre-and mid-match on-field comments).
How strange that the Tyrrells League should start up again on the same day as the last Quilter international. Why the clash? The only possible benefit it could bring would be an levelling up of playing strength, as the top sides were shorn of their England stars.
Richmond claim the honours by seeing off Bristol. Worcester deserve our sympathy by just failing once more to bring home the bacon. Sarries demonstrated their strength in depth by seeing off unbeaten Loughborough in the top-of-the-table clash.
Results from Round 9:
DMP 10 Quins 35
Richmond 24 Bears 22
Saracens 29 Lightning 0
Valkyries 22 Waterloo 23
Wasps 26 Glos-Pury 10
Saracens reclaim top place. Bristol nudge above Glos-Pury again, though both sides lost; and Richmond move up to eighth.