Source: INPHO/Women’s 6 Nations

Who can stop them? – England v Italy

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Six Nations – Round Two
Franklin’s Gardens, Northampton

Result: England 68 Italy 5
Player of the Match: Sarah Bern

England powered to another overwhelming victory against a courageous Italian side. For them the wait goes on, but their coming home game against a dispirited Ireland should set them on their way again.

First Italy: they had the delight of scoring their first try against the Red Roses since 2018, and ironically it was a version of that English favourite, the rolling maul. Sara Tounesi on the end of it. (7-5) That was the closest they got to sharing the spoils. Jess Breach had already chalked up the hosts’ first try in the second minute. The deluge was to follow later.

The Azzurre were intent on playing their traditional game, with quick hands spreading the ball wide. At breakdowns they played cannily, protecting their own ball and slowing the opposition’s. The trouble was, the old weakness of careless or over-ambitious handling errors persisted. Time and again promising moves and counter-moves came to an abrupt halt.

The reasons were partly the efficiency of the English defences. Even when blue shirts broke through the first line, the threat was quickly snuffed out.

As for England, they were keen to entertain a large crowd and prove their critics wrong. Forwards and backs combined in dizzying movements; the ball found its way into wingers’ hands so often that they were gorged with tries: Claudia Macdonald two, Jess Breach three and full-back Abby Dow four. It was quite like old times. This season the wingers have made a point of crossing the field, often doubling up to pursue an attack.

The pack made it all possible; their speed of recycling was astonishing. Lucy Packer’s one order must have been ‘Pass!’ And she did, very well.

Holly Aitchison converted Breach’s first try, but after that was off target. When Lagi Tuima replaced her, she had the first chance from in front, and took it. Late on, Emma Sing kicked two fine conversions, but missed others.

Sarah Bern had an astonishing game. She played No 3, but No 11, No 14 and No 13 as well. Her pace and agility makes her a nightmare to face, and she has the ball-player’s skill to offer clean-cut chances with her passes.

Despite all the handling sequences Aitchison was still prepared to kick for position and to force defenders to turn and retrieve. Those Italian handling errors gave her plenty of chnces to display her skill.

Abby Dow nearly gained a 50-22 with a return kick, then Delany Burns on debut made a telling break from an Italian line-out. A delightful kick-pass from Aitchison saw Breach, closely marked, slip the ball to Dow who went over.

Around the quarter-hour mark the Azzurre were still intent on moving the ball fast, but each error was to prove costly. After a powerful scrummage, England whipped the ball down the line for Macdonald to set off on one of her now typical scorching runs to the line,

There was a worry for Italy as Beatrice Rigoni left the field, but fortunately she was allowed to return ten minutes later. While she was off, the Red Roses thought Macdonald had scored another beauty, but no – TMOs have no compassion; Amy Cokayne was found guilty of obstruction.

On the half-hour Bern did her winger’s impression with a step and acceleration; Italy did well to haul her in. But a repeat of earlier faults: they disrupted an English line-out then promptly knocked on. The outcome was another try to Macdonald, helped by great work by Bern.

Just before the break Breach took her next try, dancing her way past a hapless opponent.

Half-time 27-5

It hadn’t been one-way traffic, but the fear/hope (delete as applicable) was that soon any traffic coming the other way would be shunted mercilessly over the side of the precipice. A further 41 points proved the point.

The Azzurre were still fighting hard. Giada Franco made one fine break, but her chums couldn’t exploit the chance.

Tatyana Heard was on the end of a multi-pass movement that finished under the posts. By now Bern had already gained 104 metres!

The one English concern was an injury to Macdonald on 48 minutes. Her face suggested she didn’t feel confident of making the next round. Possibly her right knee. That brought Emma Sing on.

Italy’s sad progress continued. They built a promising move; the ball was knocked on; the next moment Dow was scoring at the other end of the ground – just as if she was playing the Black Ferns.
Ditto the next move. Marlie Packer snaffled a lost Italian ball at a breakdown; two passes and Dow was away once again.

The three-quarter mark saw the expected changes made, including a debut for Emily Robinson.
50 points came up as Tuima took over the cross-kicking duties from Aitchison. She aimed a lovely floater to Breach who crossed for her third.

Not for the first time, English fans with a heart had to feel sorry for the opposition. They had to deal with blinding pace out wide and repeated bursts from characters like Zoe Aldcroft, who takes a lot of hauling down.

Veronica Madia, a vital cog in the Italian wheel, had to be carried off, a worry for the selectors – and the rest of the team was tiring fast.

Aitchison twice tried grubbers over the line, but as with Zoe Harrison against the Ferns, she didn’t allow for the shallow in-goal area available. Both kicks ran up too far.

It was high time for the new skipper to make her mark. She did so twice, but had to allow Dow to get her fourth in between. It started with a quick line-out from Breach and spread fast across field.

A final kick by Sing missed its mark, so England couldn’t quite reach the 70 mark against the Azzurre for the second time running.



15. Abby Dow 14 Jess Breach 13 Lagi Tuima 12 Tatyana Heard 11 Claudia MacDonald 10 Holly Aitchison 9 Lucy Packer 1 Mackenzie Carson 2 Amy Cokayne 3 Sarah Bern 4 Cath O’Donnell 5 *Delany Burns 6 Sadia Kabeya 7 Marlie Packer (captain) 8 Zoe Aldcroft


16 Lark Davies 17 Liz Crake 18 Kelsey Clifford 19 Sarah Beckett 20 *Emily Robinson 21 Ella Wyrwas 22 Sarah McKenna 23 Emma Sing


1 Gaia Maris 2 Vittoria Vecchini 3 Lucia Gai 4 Sara Tounesi 5 Giordana Duca 6 Francesca Sgorbini 7 Giada Franco 8 Elisa Giordano (captain) 9 Sara Barattin 10 Veronica Madia 11 Sofia Stefan 12 Beatrice Rigoni 13 Michela Sillari 14 Aura Muzzo 15 Vittoria Ostuni Minuzzi


16 Emanuela Stecca 17 *Alice Cassaghi 18 Sara Seye 19 Valeria Fedrighi 20 Isabella Locatelli 21 Emma Stevanin 22 Jessica Busato 23 Beatrice Capomaggi



Referee: Kat Roche (USA)
AR1: Doriane Domenjo (FFR) AR2: Mary Pringle (SRU)
TMO Andrew McMenemy (SRU)

Table after two rounds:

Table                             W​      L​       Pts

England​​​                        2         0        10
Wales                            2        ​ 0        10
France​​                           2          0         9
Scotland                       0          2         0
Italy  ​​                              0         2          0  ​
Ireland      ​​                     0         2          0


Italy have yet to beat England. They have beaten every other nation. England’s record winning run in the 6N extends to 21.

Simon Middleton’s most hard-pressed selection yet – nineteen players unavailable! Despite these absences and the retirement of Sarah Hunter, the Red Roses could still field 538 caps, a really telling proof of the depth of talent and experience they have.

Now comes the week’s break. That should help at least some of England’s wounded sisterhood to recover – any of Alex Mathhews, Amber Reed, Ellie Kildunne, Hannah Botterman, Maud Muir and Poppy Cleall may appear against Wales. The new concern is Macdonald.

Just for fun; this team did not represent England today:

15 Kildunne, 14 Thompson, 13 Scarratt 12 Rowland, 11 Rugman, 10 Harrison, 9 Infante, 1 Cornborough, 2 Powell, 3 Muir, 4 Talling, 5 Ward, 6 Matthews, 7 Leitch, 8 P. Cleall