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Van der Merwe's heroics silence the Twickenham masses

A try for the ages lights up a thrilling opening weekend of Six Nations rugby as Scotland, Ireland and France register away wins

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Simon Middleton hits back at 'hilarious' England criticism

By PA
(Photo by Zac Goodwin/PA Images via Getty Images)

England head coach Simon Middleton hit back at critics of his team after the Red Roses crushed South Africa 75-0 to set up a World Cup quarter-final against Australia.

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Forwards Rosie Galligan and Connie Powell scored hat-tricks in a 13-try demolition that means the tournament favourites finish emphatic winners of Pool C.

Middleton admits England had been stung by the negative fallout to their hard-fought 13-7 victory over France in their pivotal group match last weekend.

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“I thought the reaction after the France game was hilarious. It blew my mind to be honest,” Middleton told ITV.

“It was pretty disrespectful to France because they are the best defensive side in the world. They have some great players and that was a real arm wrestle of a Test match.

“There were a lot of nerves because everyone knew what was at stake, and now that’s all unravelled.

“Winning the game was absolutely essential and we won the game categorically on everything but the scoreboard.

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“We worked on some things during the week and they were really evident in the game against South Africa. We ticked some real boxes that we’d worked hard on.

“It’s been a tough week for us. We got a great result and we’re absolutely thrilled.

“We talked about being more expressive in the second half and playing in the space that we were being given. You see we can play a bit when we open up.”

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Flanker Marlie Packer captained England for the first time and celebrated the occasion with an all-action display full of big carries and influential work at the breakdown.

“We’re super happy. We said it would take the whole 23 to get the job done and that’s what happened. I’m super proud to lead this team out and get the result that we did,” Packer said.

“What makes it for me is the support of the girls around me and the support I get from my family back home and here. It’s a massive honour for the coaches to believe in me.”

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