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England power up to maul Ireland with 11-try victory in Six Nations

Greg McWilliams’ side showed grit in the first half but England ran in 11 tries in total.

England 69

Ireland 0

THE FIRST HALF was the best of Irish grit and resilience but the second half was far more of what had been expected pre-game as England blew the visitors away.

Having been frustrated by Ireland’s defence and their own inaccuracy in the opening 40 minutes, England showed all of their power and quality to blast past Greg McWilliams’ side, finishing with 11 tries in total.

ellie-kildunne-scores-a-try Ellie Kildunne scores for England. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

In front of a record crowd of 15,836 people in Leicester, Ireland were massively up against the odds after losing seven players to the Ireland 7s squad ahead of this weekend and seeing outstanding second row Sam Monaghan injured too.

Though they showed resolve in the opening half to trail just 10-0 at the half-time break – with hooker Neve Jones and flanker Edel McMahon particularly impressive – the huge defensive effort was always going to tell thereafter and this fully-professional England team simply had way too much class and athleticism.

They took Ireland apart at the maul and scrum, earning huge momentum at the set-piece, while their world-class backs delivered some superb touches as Simon Middleton’s side made it 22 wins in a row and set up a Grand Slam decider away to France next weekend.

In truth, England were always going to have too much for the Irish here but there was frustration for McWilliams’ side when referee Amber McLachlan bizarrely failed to show Leanne Infante a card for deliberately striking Michelle Claffey in the face before half time.

However, Ireland were possibly lucky to see Dorothy Wall only yellow-carded for a high tackle in the second half – England scored three tries in that 10-minute spell anyway – and they did see red later in the game as the returning Sene Naoupu was sent off for her head-to-head tackle on England centre Emily Scarrett, who was winning her 100th cap.

Ireland will be dejected with their second half performance as the fatigue set in and England sharpened things up. The home side will probably feel like they left a huge number of scores out there having been so profligate in the opening 40 minutes.

Ireland lost wing Eimear Considine to a concerning injury in the closing quarter, while out-half Nicole Cronin was forced off in the first half, and they must now rally themselves for their final-round clash with Scotland in Belfast next weekend as they look to grab their second win of this championship. 

lark-davies-is-tackled-by-nicole-cronin-and-linda-djougang Ireland's first-half defence was superb. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

The opening minutes of the game looked ominous for Ireland as Marlie Packer turned them over on their first possession, England kicked into the right corner, and their maul produced a muscular try for hooker Lark Davies.

McWilliams’ side actually enjoyed a decent start at scrum time but that soon became a glaring weakness as England turned up the power in that area, while Ireland’s lineout began to struggle too.

But the English were extremely inaccurate in possession and had a string of handling errors as they laboured to convert their huge dominance of possession and territory into further points.

They did cross for a second maul try through tighthead prop Sarah Bern in the 17th minute but Ireland’s defence was remarkably gritty throughout the opening half, with Jones and McMahon leading the charge with their linespeed and breakdown efforts. The frustrating moments for England included lock Abbie Ward’s try correctly being disallowed for a forward pass and another possible maul score held up over the tryline.

Out-half Cronin had a poor miss off the tee from straight in front of the posts just after the quarter mark on what was Ireland’s only visit into the English 22 for the entire half, a frustrating moment after a promising spell.

With centre Enya Breen’s effort also among the big turnover wins for Ireland, they continued to limit the English attacking threat and the home side’s annoyance spilled over five minutes before half-time when Infante should have been carded for striking Claffey.

sarah-bern-scores-a-try England scored two maul tries in the opening quarter. Source: Laszlo Geczo/INPHO

There were three further English misses in the Irish 22 before the break, including when debutant Ireland fullback Molly Scuffil-McCabe pulled off an excellent try-saving tackle on England wing Lydia Thompson out wide on the left, forcing her into touch.

The 10-0 scoreline at half-time was a credit to the Irish effort and, as pertinently, England’s glaring wastefulness but they showed a much more clinical edge as they made a blistering start to the second half.

Ireland spilled the ball, England shifted it wide left and the outstanding Packer burst through tackle attempts from Scuffil-McCabe and Aoife Doyle to finish in the corner, Scarrett converting impressively from out wide.

The away team’s mission got all the more difficult with Wall’s 45th-minute yellow card for a high tackle on Jess Breach, England immediately taking advantage for their bonus-point try after kicking into the corner.

The maul was stopped but Davies barrelled over for her second try from close-range, Scarrett adding the extras again for 24-0.

Ireland had one of their best passages of attack in response as Doyle regathered a Breen kick to break down the right and offload to Naoupu back on the inside, but Packer pounced over the breakdown to win another turnover.

england-celebrate-lark-davies-try England were far more accurate in the second half. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

England were soon scoring down the other end as right wing Thompson finished off a slick backline play after a classy pass from fullback Helena Rowland.

Middleton’s side were right in the mood now and with Wall still in the sin bin, replacement back row Poppy Cleall forced her way over powerfully after another good English maul.

Jones continued her big defensive effort with a smashing hit on Rowland as the game entered the final quarter, but having emptied their explosive bench England continued to overpower the visitors, producing yet another maul try that saw sub prop Hannah Botterman dot down.

Ireland replacement lock Grace Moore came up with a crucial rip in the tackle on Botterman to prevent what looked like a certain try soon after as the English attack got into full flow.

McWilliam’s side suffered another blow as Considine was stretchered off injured, Railway Union captain Niamh Byrne coming on for her Test debut in the green jersey.

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When play resumed, Cleall blasted over for her second try and England’s eighth as she picked and carried off a dominant five-metre scrum.

lydia-thompson-scores-a-try Lydia Thompson dots down for England. Source: Evan Treacy/INPHO

There were still 15 minutes left to go and England had no intention of letting up, their ninth arriving when replacement wing Ellie Kildunne delivered a sublime finish out wide on the left, beating four Irish defenders with her pace and footwork.

Naoupu saw red for her high tackle in the passage of play leading up to that Kildunne try, the high danger this time resulting in red and leaving Ireland with only 14 players for the closing 12 minutes.

Kildunne added her second in the closing stages as England also had to finish with 14 on the pitch due to a worrying injury for Poppy Cleall after her two-try effort. 

Thompson grabbed her second try in the right corner, Zoe Harrison converting beautifully to put the icing on the cake having taken over the place-kicking duties from Scarrett.

England scorers:

Tries: Lark Davies [2], Sarah Bern, Marlie Packer, Lydia Thompson [2], Poppy Cleall [2], Hannah Botterman, Ellie Kildunne [2]

Conversions: Emily Scarrett [5 from 8], Zoe Harrison [2 from 3]

Ireland scorers:

Penalties: Nicole Cronin [0 from 1]

ENGLAND: Helena Rowland; Lydia Thompson, Emily Scarratt (Holly Aitchison ’68), Holly Aitchison (Amber Reed ’60), Jess Breach (Ellie Kildunne ’45); Zoe Harrison, Leanne Infante (Natasha Hunt ’60); Vickii Cornborough (Hannah Botterman ’46), Lark Davies (Amy Cokayne ’46), Sarah Bern (Maud Muir ’46); Zoe Aldcroft, Abbie Ward (Rosie Galligan ’55); Alex Matthews, Marlie Packer, Sarah Hunter (captain) (Poppy Cleall ’46 – off injured ’74). 

IRELAND: Molly Scuffil-McCabe; Aoife Doyle, Sene Naoupu (red card ’78), Enya Breen, Eimear Considine (Niamh Byrne ’64); Nicole Cronin (Michelle Claffey ’30), Kathryn Dane (Aoibheann Reilly ’73); Linda Djougang (Chloe Pearse ’74), Neve Jones (Emma Hooban ’74), Christy Haney (Katie O’Dwyer ’42); Nichola Fryday, Aoife McDermott (Grace Moore ’50); Dorothy Wall (yellow card ’45) (Maeve Óg O’Leary ’66), Edel McMahon, Hannah O’Connor. 

Referee: Amber McLachlan [RA].

About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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