The road to Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 began on a freezing cold night in Ireland as the opening weekend of the RBS Women’s Six Nations 2012 yielded comfortable wins for defending champions England and rivals France.
England and France have already qualified for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 by virtue of their top six finishing at the 2010 tournament and they will be joined by the next best placed two teams across the 2012 and 2013 Six Nations Championships.
Ireland and Wales claimed these spots for Women’s Rugby World Cup 2010 with Scotland and Italy then entering the European Women’s Trophy 2009 to determine the region’s other two qualifiers, which turned out to be Scotland and Sweden.
Opening the 2012 Championship on home soil, Ireland looked to be on course for a winning start after establishing a 10-3 half-time lead with wing Alison Millar touching down and Niamh Briggs adding the conversion and a penalty for the home side.
However, the freezing conditions at Ashbourne RFC saw Scottish referee Kevin White call the match off at half-time for safety reasons, meaning the two sides – both playing their first match since last year’s Championship – will come face to face again on a date to be arranged.
It was France, therefore, who claimed the first victory on Saturday when they proved too strong for Italy, running out 32-0 winners at the Stade Emile Pons in Riom. Aida Ba, Jessy Tremouliere, Aurélie Bailon and Caroline Ladagnous all touched down in the first half as France went in leading 27-0.
But any thoughts of the WRWC 2014 hosts piling on the points after the break proved unfounded as Italy battled bravely and kept their more fancied opponents at bay, only conceding a fifth try through Chloe Pelle in the dying minutes.
Italy’s task does not get any easier with England, bidding for a record seventh successive Six Nations title, their next opponents arriving on the back of an impressive 47-0 rout of Scotland at Lasswade on Sunday.
The margin of victory was considerably less than their last outing – when England won 89-0 at Twickenham – but even without the likes of Maggie Alphsoni the visitors still had too much in the locker for Scotland.
Marlie Packer, Michaela Staniford (2), Rowena Burnfield, Kat Merchant (2), Natasha Hunt, Emily Scarratt and replacement Isabelle Noel-Smith all crossed the Scottish try-line as England look to build towards the next World Cup.