Source: Joe Allison:Getty Images

England tested but triumphant

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Canada v England

England had to work hard to wear down Canada’s defences, but by the end they had achieved their aims. It just remains to see the Black Ferns off. Not so easy.

The teams played in the unaccustomed setting of a covered stadium. That raised the noise level, but couldn’t hide the paucity of the crowd.

An early exchange set the pattern: Mo Hunt’s box-kick led straight to a Canadian counter, but the final pass drifted into touch. That was to be their fate for much of the game, imaginative back-play, but all too often a tiny error stopped them in their tracks. England’s defence was almost all-encompassing.

They took the initiative on five minutes. Holly Aitchison’s measured grubber behind the Canadian line bobbled around. Hands reached for it, but the TMO confirmed that Ellie Kildunne made the first downward pressure at full stretch on the ground. 7-0

One of Canada’s best features was the versatility of their back-play; they kept the defence guessing where the next thrust would come, but all too often they couldn’t convert good possession into points.

Photo: Hagen Hopkins Getty Images/World Rugby

Alex Tessier was very prominent in defence, clearing the ball to touch, but her performance overshadowed young Claire Gallagher at No 10. This was an unevenness in presence that told against Canuck success: they weren’t threatening on all fronts.

Their pack was sound at the scrum, but when Tessier kicked deep, Kildunne responded with a fine 50/22 to restore English advantage.

Sophie De Goede drove her side into the English 22, but another weakness of their performance, the line-out throw, undid the good work.

Still, they attacked strongly, putting together eighteen phases. This profited them with a yellow card for Aitchison, who slapped a final pass to Farries forward. Maggie Cogger-Orr checked to see whether a try had been denied, decided yes, but didn’t award Canada a penalty try.

They were rewarded only via a try to Emily Tuttosi on the end of a catch-and-drive. 7-5

England now responded by playing keep-ball so effectively that an attacking line-out had its inevitable result: try to Lark Atkin-Davies. Helena Rowland converted well from wide out, 14-5

As the break approached, England launched a breathless attack, all sorts of variations demanding a big effort for Canadian defences.

Then everything happened at once: the hooter sounded, Aitchison reappeared, the Red Roses won a penalty, a kick to the corner and Davies had her second try.

Half-time 21-5

There is an element of risk about England’s play: little tip-ons and scoops out of a tackle into a support player’s hands; but that’s their method, and no-one carries the blame for errors. Indeed, it’s the pattern of all the top three nations of the world. The Black Ferns and Les Bleues have the same mentality. Nothing ventured, nothing gained. It makes for exciting watching.

A poor pass out by Mo Hunt gave Canada the sniff of a chance. Paige Farries saw clear air ahead and she ran in from her own 10-metre line; Hunt couldn’t catch her. A typical Canadian response. 21-12

Now England got to work. They built a long demanding attack, a penalty allowing Aitchison to aim for a line-out near the corner.

At this point, only 50 minutes into the game, Louis Deacon made his first changes, introducing Tatyana Heard and Hannah Botterman. Amber Reed had made a number of fine contributions, both delicate and forceful; Mackenzie Carson had had the pleasure of appearing against her former nation.

The effect was immediate: a repeating groove tells you that Davies achieved her hat-trick by the methods mentioned above. That was the vital bonus-point secured. 28-12

Both coaches now made changes. Julia Schell’s appearance was to be eventful. She was nearly clear away for a Farries-type try when she was called back for a knock-on.

A little later she became the umpteenth player to be punished for an upright tackle, this one on Packer. Cogger-Orr settled on a medium-degree of danger, so the verdict was a yellow card. But it spelt more trouble for her team. Aitchison popped the ball into the corner, and – please refer to the above-mentioned scores – Davies had her fourth! Who needs wingers when the No 2s can do all the damage? 33-12

Though Schell was able to reappear, it was England now in charge. The backs moved the ball beautifully, their angles of running and their support lines asking big questions.

Inside two minutes they completed two wonderful moves. First, Kildunne’s delicate reverse-pass set Breach free, to evoke memories of their debut appearances against Canada six years ago. Then, with a move going the other way, Claudia MacDonald was given room to gallop through to the line.

Anyone moaning about the Red Roses’ dependence on forward-power now had to admit defeat. These were lovely moves from start to finish.

Result: England 45 Canada 12
Player of the Match: Lark Atkin-Davies


Canada: 1. McKinley Hunt (Saracens), 2. Emily Tuttosi (Exeter Chiefs), 3. DaLeaka Menin (Exeter Chiefs), 4. Tyson Beukeboom (Trailfinders), 5. Courtney Holtkamp (Red Deer Titans), 6. Gabrielle Senft (Stade Bordelais), 7. Sara Svoboda (Loughborough Lightning), 8. Sophie de Goede (captain, Saracens), 9. Olivia Apps (Lindsay RFC), 10. Claire Gallagher (University of Ottawa), 11. Florence Symonds (University of British Columbia), 12. Alexandra Tessier (Exeter Chiefs), 13. Shoshanah Seumanutafa (University of British Columbia), 14. Paige Farries (Red Deer) 15. Sarah-Maude Lachance (Lons)

Bench: 16. Gillian Boag (Capilano), 17. Brittany Kassil (Guelph Redcoats), 18. Alex Ellis (Saracens), 19. Ashlynn Smith (University of Calgary), 20. Sara Cline (Leprechaun Tigers), 21. Justine Pelletier (Stade Bordelais), 22. Julia Schell (Trailfinders), 23. Madison Grant (Cornwall Claymores)

England: 1. Mackenzie Carson (Gloucester-Hartpury, 8 caps), 2. Lark Atkin-Davies (Bristol Bears, 52 caps), 3. Sarah Bern (Bristol Bears, 59 caps), 4 . Zoe Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury, 46 caps), 5. Cath O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning, 29 caps), 6. Morwenna Talling (Sale Sharks, 9 caps), 7. Marlie Packer (captain, Saracens, 97 caps), 8. Alex Matthews (Gloucester-Hartpury, 60 caps), 9. Mo Hunt (Gloucester-Hartpury, 65 caps), 10. Holly Aitchison (Bristol Bears, 23 caps), 11. Claudia MacDonald (Exeter Chiefs, 30 caps), 12. Amber Reed (Bristol Bears, 66 caps), 13. Helena Rowland (Loughborough Lightning, 26 caps), 14. Abby Dow (Trailfinders Women, 38 caps), 15. Ellie Kildunne (Harlequins, 36 caps)

Bench: 16. Connie Powell (Harlequins, 12 caps), 17. Hannah Botterman (Bristol Bears, 40 caps), 18. Maud Muir (Gloucester-Hartpury, 23 caps), 19. Rosie Galligan (Saracens, 12 caps), 20. Maisy Allen (Exeter Chiefs, 3 caps), 21. Ella Wyrwas (Saracens, 4 caps), 22. Tatyana Heard (Gloucester-Hartpury, 16 caps), 23. Jess Breach (Saracens, 31 caps)


Referee: Maggie Cogger-Orr (NZR)
ARs: Lauren Jenner (FIR) and Cassie Watt (NZR)
TMO: Andrew McMenemy (SRU)


This leaves WXV1 just as the organisers must have hoped. Two games still to be played in Round two, but France and New Zealand are the odds-on favourites. That leaves a breathless last day in Auckland next weekend.

England’s defences looked uncompromising. Alex Matthews was a constant presence, able to turn that defence into instant attack, and the rest of the pack showed they rather wanted to be considered for the next match too.

When to use the bench? France learned to their cost two years ago that emptying it too early can be counter-productive. Now, with TMOs looking ever more greedily for interventions, the risks have increased. Teams are more likely to be reduced to 14 or fewer. But Deacon was prepared to use all his eight replacements unusually early.

John Mitchell came on to the field post-match to add his congratulations. He arrives just in time to tell the English how to beat the Kiwis.