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England's second-half resurgence provides bonus-point win over Italy in the Women's Six Nations

LONDON, ENGLAND - MARCH 13: Marlie Packer, the England captain, poses with the Six Nations trophy during Guinness Women's Six Nations Launch 2024 at Frameless on March 13, 2024 in London, England. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

England started their 2024 Guinness Women’s Six Nations campaign with a 48-0 result over Italy to open their account with a bonus-point win in Parma.

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England captain Marlie Packer, who earned her 100th cap in the match, additionally scored their third try to open the floodgates in the second half. 

The defending champions’ opening victory did not come easily, with Sarah Beckett shown a red card in the first quarter, and Helena Rowland receiving a yellow with just over ten minutes left on the clock.

The match was scoreless for half an hour until England’s Hannah Botterman finally broke the Italian defence before Abbie Ward added their second on her first international appearance since the 2022 Rugby World Cup final. 

England truly kicked into action in the second half and a further six scores followed suit from Packer, Rowland, Mackenzie Carson, Connie Powell and two from Ellie Kildunne.

Fixture
Womens Six Nations
Italy Women's
0 - 48
Full-time
England Women's
All Stats and Data

The lineout bedevilled England in the first half, with both overthrown and inaccurate throws costing them attacking opportunities at the set piece.

Italy’s Michela Sillari went down clutching her knee in the tenth minute after a crocodile roll from Beckett, which saw the England number eight sent to the sin bin with a yellow card, and subsequently sent for a bunker review.

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After having her knee heavily strapped, Sillari continued to play, but shortly left the field to be replaced by Emma Stevanin.

The bunker review deemed the clearout from Beckett to have had a high degree of danger with no mitigation, which reduced England to 14 women for the remainder of the match.

England’s early woes continued as a minute later, although Ward crossed the line, she was deemed to have made a double movement and the try was chalked off.

In the first 20 minutes, England had conceded ten turnovers to Italy’s three, and made ten handling errors to Italy’s eight; however, the Red Roses had 75% of the possession.

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Dogged defence from Italy, including a fantastic jackal from Beatrice Rigoni, kept them in the game despite England being camped out in their half.

Italy, who enjoyed a successful WXV 2 campaign which saw them only miss out on the trophy by points difference, held England scoreless until the 30th minute when Botterman got a well-deserved try after a strong carrying effort in the first half.

Ward was duly rewarded with her first successful England try as a mother when she powered over the line five minutes later to double the score for the Red Roses, but Zoe Harrison was unable to convert.

Despite somewhat lacking cohesion at points in the opening half an hour, England led 10-0 at the break.

It was their worst half points-wise against Italy in at least 17 years and the fewest points they’ve scored in the first 40 minutes since they went into the break with the same scoreline in October 2022 in their RWC pool match against France.

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Momentum was swiftly upped after the break however and England’s latest centurion Packer dotted down from the back of the driving maul in the first four minutes, a familiar scoring method for the Red Roses in recent years, to extend their lead to 15 points.

The bonus point soon followed as a now energised England had finally found their feet, Kildunne taking a high ball well before stepping and speeding her way to score the all-important fourth try for the Red Roses, successfully converted by Harrison this time.

Things were now clicking for the visitors as Rowland broke through multiple defenders to score their fifth and ballast their lead to 29-0.

Exeter Chiefs’ Maddie Feaunati came on to make her England debut in the 59th minute as she replaced Sadia Kabeya, while England stalwart Packer left the pitch to complete her 100th Test.

Replacement prop Carson crossed for England’s sixth at the hour mark, running a great line after a pass from Holly Aitchison. Harrison, who had now found her kicking boots, added the two points to make the scoreline 36-0.

Italy began to put together some positive phases of attack, but handling errors halted their efforts and put the ball back into English hands.

England were shown a second card to reduce them to 13 players after try-scorer Rowland made head contact in a clear-out in the 68th minute. The centre’s yellow card was also sent for a bunker review as she sat visibly disappointed on the sideline, but Rowland would later return to the pitch after her ten-minute suspension as the card remained a yellow.

Despite the two-woman deficit, Kildunne crossed the whitewash for a second time after the forward pack kept the attack alive to send the fullback over, her 25th try for her country and a ten-point contribution to their 41-0 lead.

Rigoni made a trademark pass through her legs in an attempt to ignite the Italian attack in the final minutes of the match, but she took her teammate by surprise, resulting in a knock-on.

With the clock in the red, Powell made a fantastic break for the line in search of England’s eighth, and an infringement from Stevanin after she was brought down saw the Italian sent to the bin with a yellow card which gave England the penalty and one last opportunity to score.

Harlequins’ Powell did then get her try from the lineout that followed as she scored from the maul, with Aitchison having the final word to end the match with the conversion after an impressive second-half performance from the Red Roses.

The result saw John Mitchell’s side top the table after the first round, with France just behind them on points difference after their win against Ireland.

Scotland finished the opening round in third after their historic victory over Wales at Cardiff Arms Park, while their hosts sit in fourth.

Ireland ended the weekend in fifth and England’s opponents Italy completed the table in sixth.

England go on to host Wales at Ashton Gate in round two on 30th March and on the same day, Scotland will play France in Edinburgh before Ireland and Italy complete round two on the 31st at the RDS Arena.

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james 117 days ago

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