England’s unbeaten record in 2011 remains intact, albeit only after second row Rowena Burnfield scored a try in the dying minutes to snatch a 15-11 victory over USA on the opening day of the Women’s Nations Cup at Appleby College in Ontario, Canada.
The Women’s Eagles had led 11-10 with time almost up on the clock, but instead came away with only a losing bonus point to show for their hard work against a side brimming with players who had beaten USA 37-10 in the pool stages of Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 last August.
England found it hard to break through the USA defensive line early on, but their patience eventually paid off when good work from full back Danielle Waterman and wing Fran Matthews enabled captain Katy McLean to touch down in the corner.
McLean missed with the conversion attempt and England were lucky to go in leading at half time after centre Pam Kosanke saw her second penalty attempt drift wide of the uprights to keep the match still in the balance at 5-3.
The Women’s Eagles took control after the break and edged ahead when wing Victoria Folayan fielded the ball well from a kick and ran strongly, evading a number of would be tacklers to touch down for her side’s only try.
England hit back with flanker Maggie Alphonsi, once again at the heart of everything on the pitch, scoring the Red Roses’ second try, but the lead was short-lived with Kosanke kicking the Americans into a slender 11-10 lead with over 20 minutes remaining.
The defending champions refused to surrender their unbeaten record and threw everything at the Women’s Eagles to no avail, until a period of sustained pressure on the USA try-line at the death saw Burnfield power over the line.
“The importance of this tournament was evident in this match with the physicality and pressure from the USA,” explained England coach Gary Street. “It is a different challenge to the Six Nations so it is vital for the development of some of our younger and less experienced players.
Canada on top
“Introducing six new caps to international rugby will bear fruit in the future and we showed great maturity to win the game late on. We will get better as the tournament progresses and we look forward to playing South Africa on Friday.”
It is Canada, though, who top the standings after the opening day following their 52-17 victory over South Africa at the same venue, the Canadians’ speed across the field proving difficult for their opponents to handle.
Canada, in their first appearance since finishing sixth at WRWC 2010, were on the front foot for much of the match with regular Sevens players Mandy Marchak, Kelly Russell and Ghislaine Landry stand out performers, the latter helping herself to a hat-trick.
“Overall I was very happy with our set piece and I thought the overall team performance really improved in the second half,” said Canada coach John Tait. “We are going to have to be a little more aware of where we are on the field in the future and tighten up our kick chase.
“We are only going to get so many opportunities from here on in at this tournament, so we will have to make sure we taken them when they arrive.”
South Africa coach Denver Wannies added: “We are playing against top-ranked nations and this tournament will be great exposure for us. We started well and I am pleased we could get into good field positions, but we could not sustain it and that allowed Canada to build momentum."
Canada’s next challenge is a familiar one, against neighbours USA in Chatham on Friday, the same day that defending champions England will face a South African team that has made great strides in recent years.
Women's Nations Cup fixtures and results
Tuesday, 2 August
Canada 52-17 South Africa
USA 11-15 England
Friday, 5 August
17:30 - England v South Africa
19:30 - Canada v USA
Tuesday, 9 August
16:30 - South Africa v USA
18:30 - Canada v England
Saturday, 13 August
14:00 - Third place play-off
16:00 - Final
All times local
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