Wales threw the RBS Women’s Six Nations title race wide open after upsetting favourites England 16-15 at Taffs Well on Saturday, Non Evans’ last gasp penalty giving the home side their first ever victory over England in 22 years of trying.
The veteran full back, playing in her 75th international, kept her cool to slot the kick between the posts in the 78th minute after England had been penalised for offside to seal the unexpected victory against a side that had beaten them 55-0 last year.
Evans had kicked Wales into a 13th minute with a penalty, but within minutes England had forced their way in front, a crunching tackle from Emily Scarratt on Welsh captain Mellissa Berry seeing the ball pop up for Fiona Pocock to race 25 minutes to touch down.
Berry made amends in the 26th minute, taking a quick penalty to surge over the try line to edge Wales back in front. England, though, went in leading 12-8 at half time after young centre Scarratt found a way through the defence to score her side’s second try.
Wales seized on their man advantage after Scarratt was sin-binned just past the hour mark, replacement wing Aimee Young touching down in the corner to edge Wales back in front 13-12 after the conversion was missed by Evans.
Now or never for Wales
Fly half Katy McLean looked to have won it for England with her penalty, but they had not counted on Evans’ match-winner and duly left Cardiff with their hopes of a fourth straight Grand Slam ended after a first Test defeat since the Women’s Rugby World Cup final loss to New Zealand in 2006.
“If I hadn’t kicked that last penalty I would have considered retiring,” admitted Evans afterwards. “I missed a few during the match, but I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t made sure of that last one.
“I’ve been playing for Wales since 1996 and we’ve never come that close to beating them before. We felt really confident coming into the match and a few of the senior players said to each other ‘it’s now or never’.
“This win puts us in a good table position, now we want to build on that by beating France away from home in two weeks time.”
Strong finish for Ireland
The only other unbeaten team in the 2009 Championship now are Ireland, who followed up their narrow 7-5 defeat of France last weekend with a more comfortable 35-17 victory over Italy at the Stadio Natali in Colleferro.
Ireland went in leading only 8-5 at half time, Amy Davis’ try and Niamh Briggs penalty cancelling out hooker Michela Este’s try for Italy. The home side had edged back in front, though, within minutes of the restart thanks to Elisa Cucchiella’s try.
The two sides then traded tries, Fiona Coghlan crossing for Ireland before Italian captain Paola Zangirolami brought the score to 18-17 to the visitors after the conversion was missed to seemingly set up a tense finish to the encounter.
However three tries in the final quarter wrapped up the match for Ireland as first scrum half Tania Rosser, then Briggs and finally replacement wing Grace Davitt crossed to give Steven Hennessey’s side victory.
Four-try win for France
In the weekend’s other match, France bounced back from the disappointment of losing courtesy of a late try against Ireland with a 25-12 defeat of Scotland at the Stade Dominique Grimaldi in Arras on Sunday.
Christelle Le Duff kicked France into the lead with a penalty before Claire Canal stretched that advantage to 8-0 with a 22nd minute try. Scotland fought back with a try from full back Lucy Millard, but it was the home side lead 15-7 at half after Laetitia Estève’s late try.
Elodie Poublan increased that advantage with France’s third try in the 68th minute and while Cara D’Silva crossed for Scotland, the hosts made certain of victory when Aurore Sobolak scored their fourth try four minutes from time.
The Championship resumes on 27 February when Ireland host England in Dublin before Italy travel to Edinburgh to play Scotland and France welcome table topping Wales to Montauban on the following day.