Women's Six Nations: England beat Ireland to keep grand slam in sight

The Guardian-11 months before

The Red Roses made it three wins from three with 14 points from a possible 15, staying on course to defend their Women’s Six Nations title with a second straight grand slam against a battling Ireland outfit in front of a sell-out crowd of 5,000 at Castle Park. Ireland, who like England arrived unbeaten, were committed and physical, but the hosts’ clinical approach meant the contest was over by half-time.

Extremely strong winds called for keeping it ...imple, and that is what England did in a polished opening attack. Hooker Lark Davies burst through a tackle before winger Jess Breach was held up just short, as Ireland’s scramble defence initially held firm.

But England’s set-piece power soon told, the hosts shoving a scrum over the line in the second minute. Captain and No 8 Sarah Hunter controlled the ball expertly at the base before flopping over for the opening score, which Emily Scarratt converted.

Ireland responded impressively by retaining possession for several minutes, moving through numerous attacking phases and forcing England on to the back foot, before a lengthy stoppage saw Irish front-rower Lindsay Peat taken off injured, replaced by Laura Feely.

The visitors’ momentum was interrupted and England scored with their next possession. Amber Reed off-loaded beautifully to midfield colleague Scarratt, before the hosts worked the ball right for Abby Dow to dot down after a composed pass by full-back Sarah McKenna.

Ireland again worked through some decent phases, but England’s defensive work-rate repeatedly stopped them in their tracks. England then destroyed Ireland’s scrum on the visitors’ own put-in, and consequently built irresistible pressure in the left-hand corner, Breach diving over after a sharp pass by Scarratt on 26 minutes.

Cliodhna Moloney’s crunching hit on Sarah Bern displayed Ireland’s determination, but they already trailed 17-0. Dow was nearly in again before half-time when Ireland full-back Eimear Considine failed to gather a searching kick. But England soon tightened their grip, sealing an attacking bonus point as Vicky Fleetwood finished off an unstoppable driving maul to make it 22-0. Ireland had 64% possession in the opening half, yet failed to trouble the scorers.

The visitors began the second half revitalised and produced a big shove at an attacking scrum, but again failed to turn good field position into points. England’s Dow was over the try line again on 57 minutes, but Scarratt’s pass had gone forward. Yet after another dominant scrum, McKenna’s strong finish stretched England’s lead to 27-0. Scarratt could only laugh when her well-struck conversion attempt was blown wildly off course by another strong gust of wind.

Both coaches emptied their benches and Ireland continued to defend spiritedly, while lacking the cutting edge required to breach England’s well-drilled defence. England have battled the elements at every turn so far this year, but the sun is shining on their hopes of another grand-slam season.

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