England Women fully played their part in a truly fabulous weekend for Red Rose rugby with stunning victories in both the Fifteens and Sevens formats of the Game.
While many of their regular stars were helping England achieve IRB Women’s Sevens World Series glory in Houston – a feat matched by the men in New Zealand – a new-look line-up emphasised the strength in depth available to head coach Gary Street with an emphatic 76-0 win over Scotland in the RBS Women's 6 Nations.
England ran in 12 tries in Esher with Sarah Hunter, Ceri Large, Sally Tuson and Abi Chamberlain all bagging a brace and there were further scores from Hannah Gallagher, Amber Reed, Kay Wilson and Rochelle Clark.
With the men’s Under 20s having defeated their Scottish counterparts the night before and the senior men going on to claim the Calcutta Cup, the women’s success helped England to a hat-trick of wins over the Auld Enemy.
The victory also means England’s women have now won 37 of the last 38 Six Nations matches as they target an eighth successive title.
Shock win for Italy
Italy, meanwhile, beat France in the Women's 6 Nations for the first time in seven attempts to raise hopes of gaining direct passage to Women’s Rugby World Cup 2014 in France.
Results from the 2012 and 2013 Championships will determine which two sides join automatic qualifiers England and host nation France at the seventh edition of the global gathering.
On this showing Italy will be confident of bettering last season’s fifth place finish to put themselves in the mix for WRWC 2014 qualification via the Six Nations and avoid the challenge of the tough qualifying tournament in Madrid in April.
Italy now have four points from two wins across the two Championships, the same as Wales with Ireland out in front with eight points after four victories. Scotland are playing catch-up without a win to their names so far.
A last-gasp penalty kick from veteran fly half Veronica Schiavon sealed a famous 13-12 victory, watched by a 2,000-strong, capacity crowd in Rovato, Brescia.
Italy team manager Maria Cristina Tonna called the occasion “a special day” for women’s rugby in her country, while head coach Andrea Di Giandomenico believes his team has finally come of age.
Ireland leave it late
“We are becoming a mature team that knows how to handle difficult moments. That has always been missing until now. Today the girls played a great game. They were accurate when they had to be and combative when under pressure. The girls have worked hard and I am happy. The victory is just reward for our organisation and our defence," he said.
Ireland’s women won on Welsh soil for the first time since 2005 as Gillian Bourke’s late try proved decisive in a 12-10 cliffhanger in Port Talbot. The hooker scored out wide following a free-flowing move in the 75th minute, edging Ireland into 12-10 lead that they grimly held onto.
Ireland prevailed despite playing 20 minutes of the match with 14 players following a sin-binning in each half with forwards Sophie Spence and Stacey-Lea Kennedy seeing yellow.
Earlier second row Spence’s converted first-half try was cancelled out by a score from Wales full back Rosie Fletcher, which was also converted as the sides entered the interval locked at 7-7.
Twice Wales had tries disallowed for knock-ons in a determined start to the second half, and they were inches away from scoring in the 65th-minute when Caryl James was narrowly beaten to the ball in Ireland’s in-goal area.
Eventually Laura Prosser edged Wales ahead with a penalty but Bourke and Ireland had the final say to set them up nicely for this weekend’s visit by defending champions England.