FERGUS MAINLAND @ Kingston Park
A CONSOLATION try five minutes from time offered glimpse of what Scotland’s attack could generate, but overall the visiting side coughed and spluttered against England, who put on a try-scoring festival of rugby in captain Sarah Hunter’s last game before retiring.
“We gave too much ascendancy to England, and when a team like that get on the front foot they are very difficult, and their attacks were impossible to slow down,” Scotland head coach Bryan Easson said after the TikTok Women’s Six Nations opener – a tenth consecutive defeat for his team.
“To see eight players coming on, finish with a bunch of kids really, and finish the way they did shows the growth of this group. We have a lot of injuries right now and to play against one of the best teams in the world with the players we’ve got out, it just shows the growth in Scotland women’s rugby.”
A knock-on straight from the kick-off gave Scotland their first attack scrum of the afternoon, but immediately the Red Roses pack roared into life and won a penalty as they drove the Scots backwards – an early indicator of how the afternoon would unfold.
Scotland had the lion’s share of possession early on, but their line-out just outside England’s 22 was stolen, thwarting an opportunity to score first.
Minutes later, England’s co-captain Marlie Packer burst through deep into the visitors’ half. A few phases later and some quick hands saw the Red Roses ship the ball wide into the hands of Claudia MacDonald, who crossed the try line to open the scoring. Amber Reed added the extras.
Scotland came close to equalising moments later, but Emma Orr’s try was disallowed by the TMO who deemed the grounding insufficient. Easson noted: “If we had scored there, and I’m not saying the outcome would have changed, but what would have happened in the next 20 minutes might have changed.”
England methodically worked their way back into Scottish territory and after the pack continued to make up the hard yards, the ball travelled through the backs and Jess Breach set up an out-of-place Amy Cokayne, who scored in the corner for England’s second.
After a scrum on halfway, space opened up wide for England and the Red Roses exploited Scotland’s lapse in concentration. Macdonald found herself with acres of green grass and left the Scots chasing the winger. The Exeter Chiefs star carried her recent try-scoring form in the Premier 15s into the Six Nations to cross the line for a second time at Kingston Park.
Scotland continued to play the majority of the first half in their own territory, allowing the hosts’ unrelenting onslaught to secure the bonus point. Tatyana Heard pierced the flailing defence and to the delight of the Newcastle crowd scored England’s fourth try of the afternoon.
Three things in life are guaranteed. Death, taxes and England’s driving maul. This weapon that wreaked havoc from as far out as the 22 in the World Cup was utilised for England’s fifth try. Scotland had no answer and Cokayne scored her second try of the day.
England returned to the field after the break with the same ferocity as the first half. Less than two minutes after play resumed, they were back inside Scotland’s five-metre line after the visitors had failed to clear their lines, and Saracens second row Poppy Cleall rumbled over for her team’s sixth try.
Sadia Kabeya scored England’s magnificent seventh, with full-back Abby Dow made the initial break, breaking tackles and casting aside Helen Nelson in the build-up.
Packer got the eighth off the back of a maul, and then came arguably the loudest cheer of the afternoon when Hunter, whose total of 141 Test appearances is a world record for the women’s game, stepped off the field for the final time. The crowd rose to their feet and the women in blue joined the thunderous applause as Hunter thanked her hometown support.
After the match, Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm praised her Loughborough Lightning team-mate. “I don’t think words can ever do Sarah Hunter justice,” she said. “She is an amazing ambassador for women’s sport and sport in general and a great friend.”
Hunter’s departure left big boots for Cath O’Donnell to fill, but the replacement forward made her presence felt immediately, helping England to another try from their maul and Packer’s second.
Then Packer forced a turnover in Scotland’s 22, and the Red Roses looked to their ever-reliable maul to cross the whitewash yet again, with Packer herself finishing off to complete her hat-trick.
Fortunately for the Scots, they would be spared the misery of a scoreless game. Chloe Rollie raced through the England defenders, who appeared somewhat taken back by the spark Scotland had conjured up. The full-back scored and Nelson converted.
“Our key messaging this week was to be brave,” Malcolm added. “I think it’s really easy against a team like England, who are so dominant, to play within yourselves. And I think particularly the impact the bench had, they came on and they were
not afraid. They fronted up and they really implemented how we wanted to attack.
“The vibe around camp has been spot on, the application has been spot on, and in the huddle after the game today everyone is saying the right things. Everyone is together in what we want to achieve and it’s a lot easier to achieve a goal as a collective and it feels right now as though we are as together as we have ever been and in a really good place to push on.”
England: A Dow (E Sing 61); J Breach, L Tuima, A Reed (T Heard 19), C MacDonald; H Aitchison, L Packer (E Wyrwas 61); M Carson (L Davies 62), A Cokayne (L Crake 62), S Bern (K Clifford 62), Z Aldcroft (S Beckett 61), P Cleall, S Kabeya, M Packer, S Hunter (C O’Donnell 59).
Scotland: C Rollie; C Grant (L Musgrove 51), E Orr, M Smith (B Blacklock 64), F McGhie; H Nelson, C Mattinson (M McDonald 53); L Bartlett (A Young 62), L Skeldon (J Rettie 53), C Belisle (E Clarke 51), L O’Donnell (E Donaldson 62) , L McMillan, R Malcolm (captain, E Sinclair 64), R McLachlan, E Gallagher.
Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (South Africa).
England: Tries: MacDonald 2, Cokayne 2, Heard, Cleall, Kabeya, Packer 3. Cons: Reed, Tuima 3.
Scotland: Try: Rollie. Con: Nelson.
Scoring sequence (England first): 5-0 7-0; 12-0; 17-0; 22-0; 24-0; 29-0; 31-0 (h-t) 36-0; 41-0; 43-0; 48-0; 53-0; 58-0; 58-5; 58-7.