Source: INPHO

‘Hip Hip hooray, Twenty-one today’

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England v Wales
Six Nations – Round Three Kingsholm, Gloucester

England collected their 21st victory on the spin, but Wales made them work very hard for it, whatever the scoreline may say.

The Red Roses were distinctly untidy in the first quarter, muffing three line-outs, conceding two penalties and failing to complete promising moves. One rolling maul was a warning of better things to come, but the occasion – a vast crowd of 14,689, their biggest ever at home, seemed to be getting at them more than the visitors.

Kayleigh Powell made an excellent run from deep to put the Welsh briefly on the front foot, but the English defence snuffed out the chance.

Things took a sharp turn for the worse as Abby Dow lay prostrate on the ground. It needed a long break to see her safely off the field to the warmest of applause, but her campaign is done. Ellie Kildunne took over the reins.

The team had plenty of time to discuss what needed sorting out, and within a couple of minutes Alex Matthews took a clean line-out catch for Lark Davies to go over on the back of another unstoppable maul.

Sarah McKenna might have been in for a second, but a final pass finished at her feet. Instead, it was Abbie Ward’s turn to complete drives to the line, benefiting from a front peel by Sarah Bern that was stopped just short.

On 20 minutes Wales put together a long raid halted only by a ‘held up’ decision on the English 22.
There was tension and emotion aplenty, even boos from the crowd at a decision by the impressive referee, Julianne Zussman, who had met the Red Roses in the autumn USA match.

England’s play involves risk: especially their instant flat passes are liable to be picked off, and quick breaks – of which there were many – can lead to a turnover for an isolated player. But a third wonky line-out and a lost scrum were not on the wish-list. Wales could rejoice in stout-hearted defence and resolution.

So as the break approached, England resorted to what they do best, the driven maul. From there the ball was spun fast and wide to find – ah! Jess Breach. Was this her very first touch? No matter, she had her 26th try with the familiar mix of pace and step.

There was just time to contrast the fates of Breach and Dow: Breach missing for a year with a series of injuries; Dow now brought low after a series of quite outstanding performances.
Half-time 19-0
Hard to claim that this was a job half done for the home team. They couldn’t feel happy about those first 40 minutes. No doubt there was straight speaking in the changing-room.

The second 40 undid all Wales’ good work. They still showed plenty of fight, but the game only rarely crossed the English 22.

The Red Roses added a further 39 points, as their fitness and pace determined the course of the match.
Four minutes in, and Davies had her second, by the usual methods. With the bonus point secured England were in top gear now, the ball being distributed fast across the field. A great move saw Breach add her second as she accepted a long floated pass from Zoe Harrison.

Only three minutes later Bern was over from a perfect front peel, the ball delivered on a silver salver by Marlie Packer. Harrison converted splendidly from the edge.

Wales won a scrum penalty to reach deep into English territory, but all was undone by the number of penalties conceded – 16 to this point – and Natalia John paid the penalty with a yellow.

Just before the England bench emptied, Matthews scored a magnificent try, taking an inside pass from Ward on the right edge. She had the power and skill to fight her way over.

Now at last Wales shows what they were made of. A penalty took them to the English 5-metre line, and they turned the tables on the hosts by driving a maul over the line. Try to Kelsey Jones, only just on the field. (41-5)

England returned to the attack with a wonderful passage of play set off by Kildunne. The final pass came to Shaunagh Brown on the left wing. She was happy.

The next move needed McKenna to squeeze a brilliant off-load back into play on the left edge. There was Emily Scarratt perfectly positioned to complete her 51st test try.

England were crawling all over a tiring Welsh side by then. The clock was already in the red, when the 36-year-old captain showed she wasn’t fatigued. She crossed for her side’s tenth try of the day

Result: England 58 Wales 5 Player of the Match: Abbie Ward

Referee: Julianne Zussman (RC)

ARs: Hollie Davidson (SRU) and Maria Latos (GER) TMO: Matteo Liperini (FIR)

With thanks to rugby

Attendance: 14, 689 Teams

England: 15. Abby Dow, 14. Jess Breach, 13. Emily Scarratt, 12. Helena Rowland, 11. Sarah McKenna, 10. Zoe Harrison, 9. Lucy Packer; 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Sarah Bern, 4. Poppy Cleall, 5. Abbie Ward, 6. Alex Matthews, 7. Marlie Packer, 8. Sarah Hunter (captain)

Bench: 16. Connie Powell, 17. Maud Muir, 18. Shaunagh Brown, 19. Rosie Galligan, 20. Vicky Fleetwood, 21. Natasha Hunt, 22. Amber Reed, 23. Ellie Kildunne

Wales: 15. Kayleigh Powell 14. Lisa Neumann, 13. Hannah Jones, 12. Kerin Lake, 11. Jasmine Joyce, 10. Robyn Wilkins, 9. Ffion Lewis; 1. Gwenllian Pyrs, 2. Carys Phillips, 3. Donna Rose, 4. Sisilia Tuipulotu, 5. Gwen Crabb, 6. Siwan Lillicrap, (captain) 7. Alisha Butchers, 8. Sioned Harries

Bench: 16. Kelsey Jones, 17. Cara Hope, 18. Cerys Hale, 19. Alex Callender, 20. Bench: 16. Kelsey Jones, 17. Cara Hope, 18. Cerys Hale, 19. Alex Callender, 20. Bethan Lewis, 21. Keira Bevan, 22. Elinor Snowsill, 23. Natalia John


                          P       W      L      B       Pts
England          3         3        0       3         15
France             2         2        0       2         10
Wales              3         2         1       2         10
Scotland         2         0         2       1            1
Ireland            2        0          2       0           0
Italy                 2         0         2        0          0

The new record attendance for an English stand-alone international is the fourth recorded this series, after Ireland, Scotland and Wales – an astonishing achievement.

The England selectors now have two games left in the series; the side picked to face the French in Round 5 may well show changes. And there is an entire summer filled with… we still don’t know what.
There may be a tour; they may play a series of one-offs; they may even welcome incoming opposition to these shores. The really crucial decision is: do they make a preparatory visit to Aotearoa?

It’s a long time since Middleton made such an explicit statement about fitness. Now we know that squad members who haven’t yet appeared are either injured (Aldcroft, Botterman, Cokayne) or not in the shape expected (no names, no pack drill).

Ioan Cunningham made five changes to the side that beat Ireland. Two bench forwards who excelled there, Donna Rose and Sioned Harries, were promoted, meaning that the skipper shifted to the flank. Sharing my view that the Welsh pack needed all the power and physicality it could muster, he asked Sisilia Tuipulotu to take the No 4 shirt. If you’re good enough, you’re old enough