England had two reasons to celebrate after beating Canada 41-19 to retain the Women’s Nations Cup on Saturday, a final which also saw hooker Amy Garnett become the first Englishwoman to reach a century of caps for her country.
Garnett, a Metropolitan police officer in London who made her debut back in 2001, follows in the footsteps of Scotland forward Donna Kennedy and wing cum second row Louise Rickard of Wales in becoming a centurion of the Women’s Game.
“It’s been a privilege and honour to play for England 100 times, I have played with so many spectacular players over the years, far too many to mention, and I have some very special memories,” admitted Garnett, 35.
“Winning so many England caps has been a dream come true and I hope there are many youngsters out there who can strive to do the same thing as me. It’s a privilege to be the first English player to do this, but I know I won’t be the last.”
England had beaten Canada 22-10 in the climax of the round robin stages earlier in the week, with Garnett among the try-scorers, and another tight match looked on the cards with the Red Roses leading only 17-11 at half time courtesy of tries by Maggie Alphonsi and Kat Merchant.
The visitors, though, had other ideas and proved too strong for their Canadian counterparts in the second half with tries from Alice Richardson, Sarah Hunter and Claire Allan pulling England clear with Alphonsi having the final say after Mandy Marchak had touched down for Canada.
England’s victory and successful title defence means they have now stretched their unbeaten run to nine matches in 2011, having earlier in the year secured a fifth Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam in six years.
Women's Eagles bounce back
“This tournament sums up exactly why we come to play in tournaments like the Nations Cup,” said England coach Gary Street. “The standard and intensity of the rugby this year has meant we have had to perform to world class level and that is vital as we build towards our autumn international programme.
“The win against Canada showed why it is vital to work on core elements of rugby skills because although Canada was very athletic and powerful, our ability to produce skills under pressure and play winning rugby was paramount. This is a great start to what is going to be a challenging but very exciting new season.”
In the day’s earlier match at Appleby College in Oakville, Ontario, the Women’s Eagles were able to bounce back from the disappointment of a narrow loss to South Africa by beating the same opponents 29-9 to claim third place in the four-team tournament.
Handling errors and untidy breakdowns meant both sides struggled to find their rhythm as South Africa, whose 26-23 victory last Tuesday was their first ever against one of the world’s top six sides, edged ahead 6-0 with two Zandile Nojoko penalties.
This only sufficed to stoke the American fires with Vanesha McGee bursting through tackles to score minutes after Pam Kosanke’s penalty to give her side a 10-6 lead at half time. McGee darted through the defence for another try with Laura Miller and Samantha Pankey also touching down to seal the win.
“I think we came together really well as a team and executed our game plan,” said USA captain Jamie Burke. “The team is really cohesive with a really good culture. It’s also a team that can win. It’s not very common for a team to have all of those things. This win is very important for the team moving forward.”
Women's Nations Cup fixtures and results
Tuesday, 2 August
Canada 52-17 South Africa
USA 11-15 England
Friday, 5 August
England 46-8 South Africa
Canada 35-17 USA
Tuesday, 9 August
South Africa 26-23 USA
Canada 22-10 England
Saturday, 13 August
Third place play-off - USA 29-9 South Africa
Final - England 41-19 Canada