CASTRES, FRANCE – The opening week’s coverage of the Women’s Six Nations left me foaming at the mouth, so it had to get better for week two, right?
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Round two of the competition promised much: Ireland taking on France on home soil (though questions will surely be asked about the choice of venue), Scotland likewise getting the chance to show off what they could do at their new home, and a chance for a stuttering England to silence their critics.
Friday night was crisp and clear as the camera (I’m fairly sure there was only one. Again.) beamed the action from Ashbourne RFC, where a rowdy and full-throated crowd – both Irish and French – were eagerly backing their respective sides.
The game started in lively fashion with the opening 20 minutes or so dominated by France. Julie Billes, who put three tries past Scotland the previous week, was an obvious danger woman, and every time she saw an inch she took a mile.
However, Ireland were staunch in defence, repelling wave after wave of French attacks. They had a little luck on their side too; a nifty kick from Jessy Tremoulière was only prevented from turning into a try thanks to a knock on.
A few minutes later, the French no 15 missed the posts after a penalty went astray, but arguably the turning point of the first half was the departure of Laëtitia Grand. The subsequent scrum was won against the head by Ireland, and from then on in, Niamh Briggs and her team took the game to the French.
The home side’s scrum sorted itself out and the maul finally began moving in the right direction (forward) – it was definitely a case of game on by the time the whistle blew for half time.
Unfortunately, a technical hitch meant the lights went out at Ashbourne. A long delay ensued, while the players considered moving pitches, before someone flicked a switch and said “let there be light!”
Embarrassing though it was, the break didn’t seem to bother either pack at all, and although lock Marine de Nadai was yellow-carded, just moments later Ailis Egan crossed the line for Ireland – much to the crowd’s delight.
However, the French response was swift as Caroline Boujard went against the run of play and crossed the line, her try converted by Tremoulière. The win was sealed when the no 15 struck a penalty to give Les Bleus a deserved victory.
Full time: Ireland 5 France 10
Saturday saw Scotland eagerly play host to Wales in a mirror of Sunday’s men’s game – though it’s fair to say the affair at Broadwood probably wasn’t quite as physical.
I would like to say I watched it, but sadly, the only way to follow the game was via the RADIO. I’m sorry – are we in the 21st century?
The frustrations of fans who weren’t able to watch the game will have been surpassed only by the Scottish team as they mounted a massive defence in the first half against a relentless Welsh pack.
Laurie Harries gave the women in red their lead, thanks to a couple of penalties, but breaking through the stalwart Scottish defence was going to take something a bit special.
Ironically, it came in the form of a flurry of Scottish activity. Tracy Balmer’s squad came out of the blocks all guns firing and Nuala Deans landed a penalty to bring the scores closer.
However, after an extended period of Welsh attack, hooker Carys Phillips crossed the line for the visitors’ first try – neatly converted by Harries.
The game was stopped for several moments as Scotland’s centre Hannah Smith received treatment before being stretchered off, but there was no gaining any momentum for Scotland.
Wales’ Sioned Harries powered over the Scottish line following a scrum, and the subsequent conversion opened the gap between the scores even further. But the Welsh were far from finished.
In the final ten minutes, Dyddgu Hywel, Elinor Snowsill and Amy Lawrence all scored – the last coming in the final minute – with Harries elegantly slotting the conversions.
Scotland’s Deborah McCormack picked up a yellow card for a high tackle, leaving her side run ragged and with questions still to be answered.
Final score: Wales 39 Scotland 3
The final fixture of the weekend had so much riding on it you could have called it a rocket and sent it to the moon. England were playing host to Italy at Twickenham Stoop – and the pressure was on the home side, as former captain Katy Mclean had been drafted in to play alongside current incumbent Tamara Taylor.
From the opening whistle, the home side did not have things their own way. The Azzuri brought the game to the English and their sustained pressure was rewarded with the game’s first try from Flavia Severin – much to a partisan crowd’s chagrin. Were England going to be railroaded again?
The answer was no. Although Mclean’s kicking was a little wayward, the home side kept their heads and continued to probe and push at the Italian defence. Someone must have relayed Maggie Alphonsi’s commentary to them, because the moment they started to play through their phases, the game came to life.
Number 6 Alex Matthews was epic, carving up the Italian forwards and putting in big tackles, and she crossed the line after the legend that is Rocky Clark was held up. Mclean converted, and suddenly it was all England – much of it Matthews – before Abbie Scott crossed the whitewash to make the score 15-7 at the half-time hooter.
The opening moments of the second half saw England’s scrum dominate, though the bizarre decision to take a line-out instead of a scrum cost the home side another score and allowed Italy to clear their lines.
The respite was short-lived as the England women came back again and again, with Ceri Large and Mclean scoring successive tries. The number 10 duly converted, and as a rash of changes to both sides went through, including bringing on bright new England thing Amy Cokayne.
However, it was Hannah Gallagher who showed a clean pair of heels and flew over the line, her try converted by Megan Goddard.
Kay Wilson added her name to the scoresheet in the dying moments, and although her try went unconverted, England had proved they were back in the competition.
Final score: England 39 Italy 7
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