Defending champions England may have kicked off their quest for a sixth consecutive RBS Women’s Six Nations title with victory over Wales, but it was France who made the boldest statement on the opening weekend by overwhelming Scotland 53-3.
Centre Elodie Poublan was the undoubted star for France, scoring five of her side’s nine tries at the Stade Henri Longuet in Viry-Châtillon on Friday evening in the first match of the 2011 Championship.
France, despite fielding seven debutants, came racing out of the blocks and were 15-0 up with only 10 minutes the clock, Poublan and wing Dioni Aguerre touching down after referee Claire Hodnett awarded an early penalty try.
Former Scottish footballer Caroline Collie got the visitors on the board with a penalty, but Poublan had completed her hat-trick before the half hour mark with wing Laurelin Fourcade touching down on the stroke of half time to send France in leading 34-5.
Scotland did enjoy a period of pressure in the French half after the break, but they failed to turn it into any points and paid the price with Poublan crossing twice before Aguerre claimed her second of the night to post France’s highest international score for 10 years.
“We let in too many soft tries and our one-on-one tackling just wasn’t good enough,” admitted Scotland coach Karen Findlay afterwards. “The French backline’s accuracy in passing was much better and we need to get more clinical in our finishing.
“The second half, however, was night and day better and our fitness has definitely improved. We’re obviously disappointed with the result but now we need to take the positives, regroup and refocus.”
Ireland come good in Italy
France will be looking to continue their scoring when they travel to Ashbourne on Friday to face an Ireland side, who broke clear in the second half to beat Italy 26-5 at the Stadio Maria Battaglini in Rovigo on Sunday.
The hosts, the only one of the Six Nations teams not to have played at Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010, piled the pressure on Ireland in the opening half hour and were rewarded for their patient build up when second row Flavia Severin touched down.
Conceding the try seemed to spur Ireland on with a penalty from full back Niamh Briggs followed by a superb try from debut wing Niamh Kavanagh, who raced 40 yards and beat a number of defenders to send her side in with an 8-5 lead at half time.
With a crowd of 3,000 creating a noisy atmosphere in Rovigo – one of three host cities for the IRB Junior World Championship in June – Ireland began to stamp their authority on the match with the lively Briggs kicking another penalty early in the second half.
Debutant Geraldine Rea was a standout player at centre as hooker Gillian Bourke, flanker Claire Molloy and wing Mairead Kelly all crossing for tries to leave coach Philip Doyle pleased with their opening efforts in the Championship.
“With a brand new squad this season, Italy away from home was always going to be a tough game to open our year,” admitted Doyle. “They delivered on the physicality we were expecting and I'm delighted to come away with a win.”
England battle conditions and resolute Welsh
England head coach Gary Street had been expecting a “bit of rustiness” among his charges when they took on Wales on Sunday, the only side to beat them in the last five Championships, 16-15 on Welsh soil in 2009.
The cross field winds and rain-soaked conditions at Pandy Park in Cross Keys didn’t help either side, but England nonetheless dominated possession and territory for the majority of the game and will have been disappointed to only score three tries in a 19-0 win.
Wing Fran Matthews opened the scoring in the 11th minute, but the Welsh defence proved resolute and it was only late in the first half that England added to their tally when referee Mark Patton awarded them a penalty try, new captain Katy McLean kicking the conversion.
England had the wind behind them in the second half and scored a well-worked try eight minutes after the restart when quick ball allowed Kim Oliver to draw the defence and release Danielle Waterman for an unchallenged run to the line.
However there was to be no opening of the flood gates with the score remaining at 19-0 until the final whistle, despite a spirited finish from Wales who were camped on the England try-line only for second row Shona Powell Hughes to cough up possession, leaving her side without a point against the champions since that historic win.
“For most of the game we dominated and we have got to be pleased with that. The conditions were very difficult today and that played its part,” said Street. “We haven’t played since September so I expected a bit of rustiness but we scored some nice tries and our defence was solid as ever.
“Our next test is against Italy on Saturday and not only will we be looking for a win, but we will be looking for an improved performance.”
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