Fiona Pocock scored three of England’s 11 tries as they kicked off their campaign for a fourth successive RBS Women’s Six Nations Grand Slam with an impressive 69-13 defeat of Italy at Old Deer Park in Richmond.
Further tries from captain Catherine Spencer, Amy Turner, Vicky Massarella and Emily Scarratt gave England a commanding 45-3 lead at half-time as Italy lost captain Paola Zangirolami to the sin-bin. The ltalians lost another player to the sin-bin after the break, although Veronica Schiavon kicked a penalty.
Charlotte Barras extended England’s lead with virtually her first touch of the ball after coming on as a replacement, before further tries from Amy Garnett, Scarratt and replacement Gemma Sharples wrapped up the opening victory for Gary Street’s side.
Italy did cross the try line on the hour mark when fly half Schiavon picked up a loose ball from Pocock to dive over and then convert her own score, their refusal to give up earning praise from England head coach Street.
“This was a good start by my young team. We played some very good rugby at times, and although we have got things to work on, I am more than happy with this victory,” explained Street.
“Today we showed that we have progressed from our game against Ireland in December because we played with some more fluidity and control. The youngsters also put their hands up and made their mark on the game.
“To give Italy credit, they played well and kept asking questions of us all the time. They must us work really hard.”
Wales to strong in first half
Next up for the defending champions is a visit to Cardiff on Saturday to tackle Wales for a challenge Street admits will be “another step up for us” after the 2008 runners up opened with a 31-10 victory away from home over Scotland on Sunday.
The match was effectively won in the first half with debutant wing Ali Wright, captain Mellissa Berry on the occasion of her 50th Test as captain and Non Evans scoring the tries that gave Wales a 25-10 lead at the break, Scotland’s only reply coming from Sarah Gill’s penalty and Lucy Millard’s try.
Scotland restricted their visitors to a bitterly cold Lasswade to just two penalties for Evans – taking her personal tally to 21 in the match – and leaving Wales admitting there is much to build on in the remainder of the campaign.
“To come to Scotland and win 31-10 is no easy task,” admitted coach Jason Lewis. “It was disappointing we let things slip in the second half and we won’t be able to do that against England next week.”
Berry added: “It was important to get our campaign off to a win. To have such a healthy lead at the half time was very pleasing, whereas the second half wasn’t as good but it gives us something to build on for the rest of the campaign.”
Tense finale for Ireland
If these two matches produced convincing victories, the opening weekend’s opening match on Friday evening went right down to the wire with Ireland prop Fiona Coghlan scoring in the 72nd minute to seal a slender 7-5 victory over France.
The two sides were deadlocked at 0-0 come half time, but France found the way through when great work by their forwards set the platform for the backs to spread the ball from left to right for wing Cathy Langenfeld to touch down for the opening score.
Full back Caroline Ladagnous missed the conversion, which later proved decisive when Coghlan scored for Ireland and Niamh Briggs added the two points. However Ladaganous did have a chance to snatch the win but she missed with a long range penalty attempt in the dying minutes.
“Definitely, that was one of the toughest games we’ve ever had,” Ireland’s new captain Joy Nevillie admitted. “We knew we’d have to fight tooth and nail and we did. It came down to the last couple of seconds and we didn’t expect anything less than that.
“In fairness to the French, they put up a hard fight and they were just unlucky. I think it was a very tight game and it could really have gone either way. This year we have the belief. We know it’s going to be a very close Six Nations. If we can keep up the top [of the table], we’ll be happy with that.”
Ireland will be looking to build on this victory when they travel to Colleferro to face Italy on Valentine’s Day, while France host Scotland in Arras the following day.