Source: INPHO

6 Nations – The most turbulent Series grows more turbulent yet

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On the eve of the fourth round of the 6 Nations the most disturbing twist yet in the ongoing Covid-19 crisis befell the Scottish team. One of their own players succumbed to the virus, was taken at once to a healthcare centre, and several staff and players self-isolated as well.

Their series has been the most dramatic and disturbing in the whole history of the Six Nations male and female. They began unobtrusively with a narrow loss away to the Irish, but then suffered an abandoned match in Glasgow in Round Two, had it replayed the following day in Edinburgh, and had to submit both to a snowstorm and a powerhouse performance by England. Next their game against the Azzurre had to be called off as Italy had the misfortune to be the hardest hit of European nations by the virus. The Scottish team had travelled there but had to return.

Now this third travail.

The Ireland-Italy game was called off some time back.

We can only guess when Scotland’s final fixture in Cardiff scheduled for next week will actually take place.

So a three-pronged weekend was reduced to one in the saddest of circumstances.

England v Wales

‘Disappointed but Proud’

Siwan Lillicrap spoke movingly post-match about her team’s efforts at the Twickenham Stoop. She was proud of her girls’ efforts, but it was the well-known story: Professional v Amateur equals one-way traffic. Wales pushed England off the first scrum for a penalty – now where have we heard that before? – then put an attack together, but it was to prove a rarity. As they coughed up possession at a line-out, England moved through the gears to complete a first try. Shaunagh Brown was twice prominent in the build-up, carving gaps through the Welsh armoury and Amber Reed offered a long pass wide and a tap-tackle to help pin the opposition near their line. A turnover caused by Leanne Riley and Vicky Fleetwood saw Poppy Cleall over by the posts.

The same recipe for the second: punishing thrusts finished with the ball in Cleall’s hands under the posts. Emily Scarratt, skipper today as Sarah Hunter watched from the bench, slotted both kicks.

Cerys Hale did well to spot England’s favoured front peel; she caught Brown and just forced a foot into touch.

The third score was very different, a solo marvel as Katy Daley-McLean, moving right, spotted a minute gap caused by a mismatch. She was through and ready to deceive the last line of defence with a wonderful shimmy and turn of pace.

Just short of the break England produced a text-book line-out catch-and-drive for Vicky Fleetwood to claim the score. Wales had yet to win any of their five line-outs.

Half-time: 26-0

England were determined to erase the memories of that almost barren second half against Ireland at Doncaster. This they achieved almost perfectly. They totalled 40 more points, while conceding one penalty try. More of that later.

Two notable events at the turn-around: the debut appearance of 17-year-old Mia Venner for the home team – not at full-back but on the left wing. She replaced Emily Scott while McKenna reverted to the rear ranks. Second, a remarkable piece of rugby skill. The world’s best No 10 had to run and slide over the ground to catch a kick from Kayleigh Powell threatening touch. She was on her feet at once to deliver a wicked bouncing punt into the same touch on the Welsh 22 from inside the tramlines of her own 10-metre line.

Venner’s first intervention was to save a loose pass from running into touch. With possession regained, her forwards drove and Harriet Millar-Mills strode through a gap for a memorable score. This was her first start for two years and recovery from three knee operations. She was last on this ground when she delivered a dramatic scoring pass for Kay Wilson to post the second of her seven tries. That was three years ago. She looked as though she’d never been away.

On 50 minutes a missed tackle on Cleall meant another score under the posts. Acting as dummy-half, she ran in from outside the 22.

A quite wonderful off-load from the deck by Sarah Beckett to Hannah Botterman got the crowd roaring again. Hunter came on to earn her 123rd cap. Some of us may not have eaten 123 soft-boiled eggs in our entire lives.

Yet another fine link from Cleall to Amy Cokayne gave the 50-capper the try she deserved.

The one change of fortune came as Keira Bevan aimed a cunning kick into the right corner. Venner took her time over a clearance kick. It was charged down and Mo Hunt found herself tackling the onrushing Kerin Lake before she could reach the ball. A yellow, and Wales opened their account: 47-7

KD-M now volunteered to go to No 9, as Zoe Harrison was on the pitch. We search for skills this player cannot offer.

Welsh problems were underlined as they tried to find an exit from their own 5-metre zone. Result: a turnover and Aldcroft crashed through. That brought up the half-century.

At a later scrum Hunter was able to pick up and thrust close to the line. Botterman was first there to dab down for another try. English errors crept in after Scarratt made a rare break. The ball wasn’t offered to the unmarked Venner on the left; instead the verdict was ‘held up’.

Even in the 77th minute the red pack was good enough to win a scrum-penalty on their own 5-metre line.

But the Red Roses had the last word. Fine handling saw McKenna force her way over for the tenth try of the day.

The skipper managed eight of her ten conversions, including her traditional battle with the posts.

No praise can be too high for the effort put in by the Welsh side over 80 minutes. A total of around 200 tackles tells its own story. For large parts of the game the Red Roses were on the rampage. Led by the fierce example of their captain, the visitors stuck to their unenviable task to the end.

Result: England 66 Wales 7
Referee: Amber McLachlan (ARU)
Player of the Match: Poppy Cleall
Attendance: 10,974, a new English record for the 6N

15. Emily Scott
14. Lydia Thompson
13. Emily Scarratt (captain)
12. Amber Reed
11. Sarah McKenna
10. Katy Daley-McLean
9. Leanne Riley
1. Vickii Cornborough
2. Amy Cokayne
3. Shaunagh Brown
4. Poppy Cleall
5. Zoe Aldcroft
6. Harriet Millar-Mills
7. Vicky Fleetwood
8. Sarah Beckett

16. Heather Kerr
17. Hannah Botterman
18. Sarah Bern
19. Sarah Hunter
20. Amelia Harper
21.  Natasha Hunt
22. Zoe Harrison
23. Mia Venner

15 Kayleigh Powell
14 Lisa Neumann
13 Hannah Jones
12 Kerin Lake
11 Caitlin Lewis
10 Robyn Wilkins
9 Keira Bevan
1 Gwenllian Pyrs
2 Kelsey Jones
3 Cerys Hale
4 Georgia Evans
5 Natalia John
6 Alisha Butchers
7 Bethan Lewis
8 Siwan Lillicrap (captain)

16 Molly Kelly
17 Cara Hope
18 Ruth Lewis
19 Gwen Crabb
20 Robyn Lock
21 Ffion Lewis
22 Hannah Bluck
23 Lauren Smyth