England remain on course for a record sixth successive RBS Women’s Six Nations title after coming through a tough encounter with France 16-3, while Ireland won again on the road and Italy picked up their first win of the 2011 Championship against Wales.
The encounter in Worcester brought together the two sides still dreaming of a Grand Slam and there was certainly no quarter given with England and France trying to find ways to unlock each other’s defences as well as making the big hits at Sixways.
England at times seemed to slice through the French defence at will, but while Danielle Waterman and Emily Scarratt went close to opening the score a mix of determined defence and mistakes frustrated the defending champions.
Instead it was France who took the lead, Nadège Casenave kicking a penalty in the 26th minute. However a first half of huge physicality would end 3-3 after England captain Katy McLean was successful with her second penalty attempt in injury time.
The fly half gave England the lead with another penalty in the 49th minute, but the hosts continued to squander scoring opportunities until the final 10 minutes when replacement hooker Amy Garnett barged her way over the line and McLean added another try just before the final whistle.
“We were very sporadic today and we managed to squander quite a few opportunities,” admitted England coach Gary Street. “It was frustrating because we got ourselves into some good positions but we missed the try scoring opportunities.
“We lacked precision at times and that was disappointing. There’s lots for us to work on but the important thing is that we are still on track. We have not got a good focus for our game against Scotland and we know where the improvements need to be made.”
Italy off the mark
Wales was one of the matches in this year’s competition that Italy had targeted as winnable, hardly surprising after their 19-15 victory in Bridgend 12 months ago condemned their hosts to the wooden spoon and far from the ideal preparation for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010.
Italy had made life difficult for Ireland on their visit in round one and Wales coach Kris de Scossa had said his team went into the match as underdogs, despite their hosts having been overwhelmed 68-5 by England a fortnight earlier.
A penalty by full back Aimee Young gave Wales the lead as early as the fourth minute, but the Italians hit back quickly, wing Maria Diletta Veronese finding some space on the outside of the scrum to touch down with Veronica Schiavon unable to add the extras.
Wales were looking dangerous with ball in hand and continued to pressure the Italian defence, but they were unable to turn possession into points, Young missing a penalty. They were made to pay when Maria Grazia Cioffi sliced through the defence to give Italy a 12-3 lead at half time.
The visitors emerged somewhat rejuvenated after the interval and again dominated territory and possession without advancing the scoreboard, Young missing another penalty before Wales finally got their reward when wing Kerin Lake scored in the corner.
This score only sufficed to spur the Italians into life again and Wales did well to hold out against a fierce and prolonged assault on their line, but being on the defensive meant they were unable to get the score they needed to deny Italy back to back wins in the fixture.
Italy’s victory means Scotland now sit bottom of the standings as the only team yet to taste victory in 2011, their most recent defeat coming 22-5 at the hands of Ireland. However, after conceding nearly 100 points in two matches, this defeat provided positives for coach Karen Findlay.
Ireland finish strongly
“I was really pleased with the girls, there was a massive improvement in our defence and pattern,” admitted Findlay. “We got narrow on four occasions and that cost us dearly in the end.
“It was a good day for the girls to show that they have got the ability to defend and to defend well, and that when we get the chance to score out wide we can score. Our shape and our organisation was night and day better than Wales.”
Ireland got off the perfect start in the sunny but windy conditions, turning over ball for the experienced centre Lynne Cantwell to shrug of a Scottish tackle and race over for the opening try in the sixth minute.
Cantwell threatened to add a second try from the restart, but the defence held firm and instead it was Scotland who levelled the score following some good team work among the backs allowing wing Lauren Harris to touch down.
The score remained locked at 5-5 into the second half when the visitors sucked in the Scottish defence and found space out wide for Geraldine Rea, enjoying an impressive first Six Nations campaign, to re-establish the Irish advantage.
With captain Fiona Coghlan, Gillian Bourke and impressive number 8 Joy Neville driving their side forward, Ireland crossed for two more tries through full back Niamh Briggs and Cantwell to secure a second away win in the Championship.
The penultimate round of matches on 13 March will see Ireland travel to Cross Keys to face Wales, Italy host France in Benevento and England and Scotland come face to face at Twickenham after the climax of the Calcutta Cup match.
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