France, Ireland and England excel in opening round of Women's Six Nations
THERE were convincing wins for three sides this weekend which saw the start of the women’s RBS Six Nations, which, since it’s launch in 2010, has become one of the most emblematic and most watched tournaments for women’s rugby in Europe.
FAVOURITES Ireland started their quest for back-to-back Six Nations titles with a 21-3 win over Wales. The girls in green arguably won the match in the first half, when tries from the impressive Sene Naoupu and Sophie Spence put the home side in control. Fly-half Niamh Briggs also played an influential role, kicking 11 points and setting up her side’s second try of the game.
Despite a bright start from Wales, who initially proved difficult to break down, it was the away side’s discipline which allowed Ireland to capitalise early on. Briggs cancelled out an early penalty which had been converted by Robyn Williams, before Ireland kicked in the corner after Rachel Taylor drifted offside. This proved to be a wise decision as Wales were penalised further, when Megan York was sent to the bin for not rolling away. Wales, however, proved tough to break down but could do nothing when Naoupu darted through the midfield and sprinted to the try-line to score, leaving Briggs to easily convert. Naoupu was then involved in Ireland’s second try barely minutes later, when her perfectly-timed pass out to Briggs on the left-flank led to a spirited counter attack. The ball was recycled by Mairead Coyne to Spence, who wasted no time in powering over the line. Briggs failed to convert, but Ireland went in at half time 15-3 up.
Unsurprisingly, Ireland started on the front foot after the break, with Briggs coolly converting another penalty inside the first three minutes. Wales were left disappointed when they manged to work their way up towards the Irish line, only to meet a defiant wall of green shirts and a knock-on was the only outcome of a series of drives which were stopped short. Briggs soon had another pop at goal from a penalty, but narrowly missed, hitting the post, but the Iirhs number 10 was on hand to convert another penalty with 15 minutes to go to all but secure a green win, although Wales can be credited for an encouraging defensive display late on, denying the Irish a third try despite prolonged periods of possession in the Welsh half.
England women got their Six Nations campaign off to a likewise perfect start with a 32-0 thrashing against a poor Scotland side at the Broadwood Stadium. Scotland were looking to secure their first ever Six Nations victory since women’s version of the campaign started, although Sarah Hunter’s England side were hoping to start afresh after finishing 2015 with a disappointing streak of away losses.
England took time to settle into the match and a nervy performance from fly-half Amber Reed saw a number of wayward kicks from the number 10. Wet weather conditions resulted in tricky ball-handling and the score remained 0-0 after the first 20 minutes, despite deep territorial possession inside both halves.
The girls in white gradually built up possession in the middle of the field and a driving maul saw them advance by 30 metres to threaten the Scottish line and the hosts initially struggled to clear their lines but then managed a turn-over, allowing them to advance up the pitch. Four minutes later, Scotland’s Megan Gaffney failed to deal with a ball kicked by Reed, resulting in an England turn-over which allowed centre Cattell to ground the ball in the corner. Reed missed the conversion and saw another penalty attempt go begging minutes later, but her side maintained pressure in Scotland’s half, when Millar-Mills burst through under the posts shortly before half-time. Reed this time managed to convert and the Red Rose went in 15-0 up at the break.
Scotland didn’t improve after the break, missing the chance to get on the scoreboard when fly-half Lana Skeldon missed a penalty, before another attacking run from Millar-Mills made an English win increasingly likely when she grounded under the posts for her second try of the game. Skipper Hunter shared in England’s enjoyment, driving over from a maul seven minutes later to make it 25-0. Scotland, urged on by a resilient home crowd, refused to lay down the gauntlet and came close late on, but a disciplined English defence help them up short. The away side were hungry for more, when replacement Demaine charged down a kick before touching down herself on her first competitive England debut, before Cattell converted to make it a comfortable 32-0 victory.
The third game was perhaps the most one sided, with France gaining revenge for their loss to Italy in last year’s tournament by storming to a 39-0 lead at Bourg en Brasse. France dominated from the onset, spreading the ball quickly and reading the Italian defence well, Poublan found Montpellier teammate Billes for the first try of the game. On 15 minutes, Les Bleus stole the ball from a messy Italian line-out and Pauline Rayssac spearheaded a dangerous attack which finished with Forlani crashing over the line for a try. Abadie, as she had done with her side’s first try, could not convert, but captain Mignot went over for another five points minutes later after a successful drive and line-out. Abadie soon made it 20-0 at the break thanks to a penalty and the game looked all but won at half-time.
France kept up their attacking prowess at the start of the second half, and referee Sara Cox awarded the girls in blue a penalty try on the 50 minute mark after a series of five-metre scrums. Abadie converted to make it 27-0.
Ten minutes later the bright Forlani scored her second try of the match, bursting through from a ruck to run over the Italian line, by which time Abadie had found her rhythm and kicked the conversion through the posts. With nine minutes left on the clock, Poublan finished another great move, collecting the ball from Caroline Boujard, deflected off an Italian hand, before finishing in the corner.
France will now turn their attentions to a huge game against defending champions Ireland in Perpignan, while Italy will host England.
Featured image: The Guardian