In front of a record crowd for a home match of 15,836, England extended their record unbeaten run to 22 with an emphatic victory against Ireland. Even before kick-off the end result was assured. The only challenge England faced was entertaining their fans with a show-stopping performance. In truth, they were only 50% successful.
The first half was a difficult watch. One hopes that anyone not yet converted to the women’s game did not turn the TV off at the break. England conceded nine penalties across a disjointed 40 minutes and would have been punished had they played against a better resourced team.
Ireland deserve credit for turning it into a scrap, but they arrived here with 282 Test caps among the match-day squad, six fewer than England’s bench, and were never going to be more than a spanner in the works.
England spent the first half camped inside Ireland’s 22 but did little with their time there. Two mauled tries from lineouts – scored by Lark Davies and Sarah Bern on two and 17 minutes respectively – was all they had to show for their dominance.
One spark came from Helena Rowland who was largely a spectator at full-back. She collected a kick under pressure, beat several tackles with quick steps and burst through two more to make 20 meters. Emily Scarratt, playing her 100th Test, was too eager when cleaning up and gave away a penalty, encapsulating England’s ill-discipline at the breakdown in the opening period. England were out early for the second half, a tell-tale sign that some harsh words were exchanged. Their head coach, Simon Middleton, revealed that the captain, Sarah Hunter, did the talking. “Sarah’s big thing was that this was on us,” Middleton said. “She was clear that we were second best at the breakdown.”
The pep talk worked. Two minutes after the restart Marlie Packer completed a slick move in the corner and Scarratt made her first successful shot at goal to extend her record England points tally to 655.
Ireland’s tiny hope evaporated when Dorothy Wall was sent to the sin-bin for a high tackle on Jess Breach. With a player advantage, Davies scored her second by burrowing over from close range.
The floodgates opened on 50 minutes when Lydia Thompson capped off a superb first-phase try from a lineout that included a delicious skip-pass from Rowland. Thompson still had work to do but made it look easy, sliding in for her 42nd try in her 52nd match.
Poppy Cleall was next on the scorer’s sheet, winning her collision five meters out. Rowland was again heavily involved in the build-up before a rumbling maul took it close. England’s bench tilted the contest further in their favour. A fresh front row kept winning scrum penalties that Zoe Harrison kept nudging into touch. Another lineout maul on the hour dragged the replacement Hannah Botterman over.
Cleall had another courtesy of a dominant scrum under the Irish posts when she simply had to pick the ball up and fall over the line. Scarratt’s conversion raised the half-century.
The last 15 minutes were a procession. Ellie Kildunne scored two stunners from range in either corner and Thompson got her second to complete the 11-try rout. Scarratt was substituted after a head collision with Sene Naoupu that led to the Ireland center being sent off, though England’s centurion did return before the close.
England’s imperious march continues after a brutal second-half display. But they will be more concerned with what occurred in the first 40 minutes as they prepare for a grand slam finish in France on Saturday.