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Lark Atkin-Davies bags four tries in Red Roses' second WXV 1 win

By Ned Lester
Helena Rowland with the ball in hand for the Red Roses. Photo by BLAKE ARMSTRONG/AFP via Getty Images

Week two of WXV 1 kicked off with a 2021 Rugby World Cup semi-final rematch between England and Canada. If that match last year was anything to go by, Dunedin fans were in for a nail-biter.

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Four tries to England hooker Lark Atkin-Davies denied Canada another tight contest though, extending England’s win streak to seven.

England’s methodical territorial game was again a major factor in the match early but the world’s number one ranked side also backed their phase play more than last week.

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Maia Roos is upbeat despite the Black Ferns WXV loss

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Maia Roos is upbeat despite the Black Ferns WXV loss

Contributing to that higher phase play attack was a better-disciplined performance from Canada compared to England’s round-one opponent in Australia.

Ellie Kildunne was the first to strike, pouncing on an opportunistic fumble behind the Canadian try line after an ambitious short chip trough from Holly Aitchison.

Aitchison kicked six from six last week off the tee and picked up where she left off, nailing her first effort in round two.

After that, Canada’s set piece fronted up and denied England any pay from what is often their biggest strength. As the Canadians built into the game they also looked like the more clinical team with the ball in hand, finding ground through the middle and pushing the ball wide both through the hands and through cross-field kicks.

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The clean skills were complimented by innovation as Canada turned a midfield carry into a rolling maul, claiming good metres before it collapsed and business as normal was resumed.

England’s handling was lacking at times and while their breakdown work and some superb clearances from Kildunne helped relieve moments of pressure, the Canadians’ execution wouldn’t let them off easy.

The Canadian momentum culminated in a cynical decision by Holly Aitchison, who, in a desperate effort to defend the last pass just 15 metres from her own try line, put her hand out and knocked the ball down. A yellow card was her punishment but despite Sophie de Goede’s pleas for a penalty try given Paige Farries’ finishing prowess, there was ruled to be enough cover to decline the seven points.

The Canadians wouldn’t have to wait long for their first points of the game though as mere seconds later they rumbled over the line off a lineout maul drive.

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Being down a played and seeing their lead drop to just two points galvanised the English team, who struck back twice in the following eight minutes, both off rolling mauls of their own. The tries built a 21-5 lead for England as the teams entered the sheds for oranges.

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Aitchison’s yellow had expired in the moments before halftime so both sides were back to their full complement to start the second period.

England’s intensity out of the sheds suggested coach John Mitchell had some clear instructions during the break, but again their execution let them down and Canada proved dangerous in broken play, running 60 metres with Paige Farries finishing the effort under the posts.

Time and time again, England looked to be at their most destructive striking in the moments after a Canadian try, and Lark Atkin-Davies claimed her third try of the match in the 50th minute to put a stop to Canada’s celebrations once more.

Helena Rowland took up the conversion responsibilities in Holly Aitchison’s absence and continued to nail them once her first five-eighth returned to the field.

A yellow card for Julia Schell added to the pain for Canada after an upright tackle saw the utility back make direct head contact.

England’s game management kicked into high gear in the third quarter, depriving Canada of any decent attacking opportunities and winning field position with relative ease, only to claim yet another lineout maul try. The score saw Atkin-Davies’ tally rise to four.

The score well and truly blew out as the game entered the final 10 minutes, courtesy of scintillating runs from Jess Breach and Claudia MacDonald.

The tries pushed the score to what would be the final result of 45-12. The match handed both teams some lessons heading into the final week of the tournament in Auckland.

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Jon 5 hours ago
Why Scott Robertson may need to ease big names aside for All Blacks' flexibility

> it was apparent Robertson was worried about his lack of experience at half-back, hence the decision to start veteran TJ Perenara and put Finlay Christie, the next most experienced number nine, on the bench. I don’t think it was this at all. It was a general scope he was putting over all the playerbase, he went with this cohesion factor in every position. > If the main priority is to build different tactical elements to the gameplan, then Ratima is the man in whom Robertson needs to trust and promote. This also I think is antagonist towards the reference game plans. The other plans do not need the speed of which Perenara (atleast) can’t provide, and I think personal is going to be the main point of difference between these games/opponents. That is the aspect of which I think most people will struggle to grasp, a horses for course selection policy over the typical ‘Top All Black 15’. That best 15 group of players is going to have to get broken down into categories. So it test one we saw Christie control the game to nullify the English threats out of existence and grind to a win. In test two we saw Ratima need to come on which dictated that this time they would run them off their feet with speed and the space did open up and the victory did come. Horses for courses. The same concepts are going to exist for every group, front row, lock and loose forward balance, midfield, and outside backs all can have positional changes that the players may be asked to accentualize on and develop. There might be some that _it_ will not ever click for, but they’ll hopefully still be getting to enjoy unbelievable comeback victories and late game shutouts to close it down. Knowing does not mean not enjoying.

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