Breach helps Red Roses into Six Nations final
Jess Breach helped the Red Roses book a place in the Women’s Six Nations final as they registered a bonus-point 67-3 win over Italy in Parma.
Simon Middleton’s side crossed nine times at Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi to top Pool A, having already defeated Scotland 52-10 last weekend.
Italy started positively, showing early attacking promise by spreading the ball wide and probing threatening kicks deep into English territory. The hosts were disruptive in defence too, scuppering multiple meaningful Red Roses plays inside the opening quarter.
Though Italy had a greater share of possession, England scored first. On the 22-minute mark, Emily Scarratt scooped up a wayward Italian pass on the halfway line and sprinted unopposed under the sticks, before converting her own effort.
Eight minutes later and England’s second score mimicked their first. Against the run of play, Meg Jones intercepted an inaccurate pass before cantering toward the Italian line. She was brought down short, but calmly lifted an offload into the path of Vicky Fleetwood, who duly dotted down. Scarratt’s extras giving her side a 14-point cushion.
Moments after that conversion Scarratt was shown a yellow card for a high tackle, which allowed Italy to claim their first points of the Test via the boot of outside centre Michela Sillari. But fly half Helena Rowland kept the scoreboard ticking over and answered the Italian effort with a penalty of her own to make it 3-17 at the break.
Italy started the second half with the same ferocity they did in the first, and looked sure to score early on, only for a smart Ellie Kildunne intercept to thwart their expansive play. Back on the field, and seven minutes into the resumption, Scarratt nailed a straightforward penalty in front of the sticks to see England hit the 20-point mark.
Italy scrum half Sara Barattin was sin binned for a cynical infringement at a promising England rolling maul, and the visitors took immediate advantage, breaking blind off the back of another rolling maul and sending Abby Dow over in the corner. Scarratt’s conversion made 3-27.
Harriet Millar-Mills banked England's bonus-point try, finishing off the neat run of Alex Matthews, before Rowland crossed on the hour mark for her second try in as many games. Scarratt converted both. England opened Italy up in the final quarter, rounding off a comprehensive victory with further tries from Dow, Bryony Cleall, Claudia MacDonald and Lark Davies.
The performance marked England’s 22nd consecutive win against Italy, and stretched their winning run in the Six Nations to 13 matches.
Head coach Simon Middleton said: “I was really, really pleased with the performance in the second half. We talked about what we needed to do at half time and I thought the team came out and delivered it in spade loads. What we’ve been working towards, and what we’ll continue to work towards, is how high we can sustain the energy in the game and we did that right to the end, and got stronger and stronger.
"We wanted to play with more possession for a start, back ourselves a bit more and play in areas where we tend to kick more often than not. Looking ahead to the final, we’re going to have to pick the bones out of both games as a lot of people have put their hand up. It is a great position to be in as we’ve got some fantastic depth and players who are playing well. Some of the cameo performances at the end were fantastic. We’ve got some good choices.”
Player of the Match Megan Jones said: “It was a tough ride first half, they came at us pretty hard, but I think we turned it around pretty well in the second half. Credit to the girls, we were just trying to be clinical."
Captain Sarah Hunter added: "We had to bide our time, and that's credit to Italy who put us under pressure. I think the second half performance probably reflects more of what we've been doing over the last few months in training."
Red Roses: 15. Ellie Kildunne, 14. Jess Breach, 13. Emily Scarratt, 12. Megan Jones, 11. Abby Dow, 10. Helena Rowland, 9. Leanne Riley, 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Amy Cokayne, 3. Shaunagh Brown, 4. Zoe Aldcroft, 5. Cath O’Donnell, 6. Alex Matthews, 7. Vicky Fleetwood, 8. Sarah Hunter (C).
Finishers: 16. Lark Davies, 17. Hannah Botterman, 18. Bryony Cleall, 19. Harriet Millar-Mills, 20. Poppy Cleall, 21. Claudia MacDonald, 22. Zoe Harrison, 23. Sarah McKenna
Fixtures and results
Red Roses 52 - 10 Scotland
Italy 3 - 67 Red Roses
Saturday 24 April: Finals weekend (Red Roses v Winner B, Second place A v Second place B, Third place A v Third place B) - Venue TBC.
Friday 30 April: France v Red Roses (2000 BST) - Villeneuve d'Ascq, Lille.