England secured a third successive Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam on Saturday, but only after being made to work hard for a 17-7 victory by a gritty and determined Ireland side at London Irish Amateur RFC in Sunbury.
Gary Street’s side have once again swept aside their opponents in 2008, scoring 213 points and conceding just 18 as they beat Wales 55-0 in Sunbury and then Italy 76-6, France 31-0 and Scotland 34-5 on the road.
Another emphatic victory had seemed on the cards when wing Claire Allan scored her sixth try of the Championship in the opening minute, but England were only able to add a penalty by Katy McLean as the first half ended with the champions leading 10-0.
Ireland had lost 32-0 to England in last year’s Six Nations, but their tenacious defending and commitment at the breakdown meant the home team were never able to get any consistency going to dominant the game as they have done in their previous matches.
It was only in the 70th minute that England wrapped up victory when replacement forward Sarah Beale scored their second try, which Alice Richardson converted to make it 17-0. However Ireland weren't finished and were rewarded with a try by second row Caroline Mahon – only the second conceded by England in 2008.
Highs and lows for Wales
“It’s a great feeling to win the Grand Slam again. For me this is my first one as head coach and I have to say this title is a testament to the hard work of the players on and off the field,” admitted England coach Street.
“We would have liked a better performance today but really today is all about the performance of this team throughout the Championship. The real success story has been the bonding of this squad, from a new coaching team to a relatively new and young squad. We clearly have a very strong squad with a lot of depth and that is going to stand us in very good stead for the future.”
England may have grabbed the headlines with their Grand Slam, but the final weekend of the Women’s Six Nations also witnessed two other landmarks with Louise Rickard becoming only the second female to reach 100 caps in Wales’ 3-0 victory over France in Cardiff.
The battle for second place in the Championship was played out on a muddy pitch at Taffs Well RFC, but Wales managed to outmuscle the French up front and hold firm in defence to score the only points of the match through a second half penalty by centre Michaela Reed.
Wales finish second in the Championship – a placing that had seemed unlikely after their heavy opening loss to England – but there was one downside to the victory with fly half Rachel Poolman facing a long spell on the sidelines after suffering a spiral fracture of her fibula in the first half.
Day to remember for Italy
The weekend’s other match brought together Italy and Scotland at the Stadio Comunale in Mira, the only two sides in the Championship who had yet to taste victory in 2008 and so were battling to avoid the wooden spoon.
Scotland actually took the lead with an early try by Cara D’Silva, but Italy responded with a converted try and two penalties from fly half Veronica Schiavon before second row Flavia Severin touched down to give the home side a 20-5 advantage at half time.
Schiavon stretched that lead with two penalties before Jilly McCord scored a try for Scotland just past the hour mark, although that proved little more than a consolation when Severin grabbed her second try to give Italy their first ever Women’s Six Nations victory since they joined in 2007.
“Italy played a good Six Nations and we reached this final victory after growing up game after game, both from a tactical and physical point of view,” coach Gianfranco Ermolli said. “We only performed poorly against England during the tournament.
“The victory against Scotland is really important for whole of Italian women’s rugby.”