A Helena Rowland hat-trick helped England to a 73-7 win over Wales at Ashton Gate, which means the Red Roses will head to the World Cup on a winning run of 25 consecutive matches. They are the first international rugby team to win 25 in a row – the perfect springboard from which to launch their campaign on 8 October against Fiji.
A key moment in the match came around the 70-minute mark when the Red Roses went down to 14 players. Player of the match Rowland was taken off in what was described as a precautionary measure and she could not be replaced as England had already emptied their bench.
“She started to cramp,” said the England head coach, Simon Middleton. “The last thing we want is for the cramp to turn into a tear. Medical were concerned.
“Yes it gives you a chance to look at a 14-player scenario and get Holly [Aitchison] some time. We wanted to look at Holly at 13 and what we didn’t want to do was disrespect Wales in any way. We would never do that. I would rather have that finger pointed at me than leave my 12 on the field and the cramp turns into a tear. We were never going to take a chance on that.”
After a minute’s silence for Queen Elizabeth II the match got under way. England had good early possession but the lineout was sloppy five metres out, which gave Wales a foothold. The visitors won another penalty and fly-half Elinor Snowsill showed their intent with a kick to the corner.
However, the tides quickly turned with England gathering the ball from the Wales lineout and running it upfield. In the 22 Rowland ran a beautiful line to bypass two defenders and crash over. That had the 11,961 crowd on their feet. Rowland had a try ruled out due to obstruction a few minutes later after a TMO check.
Wales were the next to strike with a driving maul allowing Gwen Crabb reap the rewards, Snowsill added the extras to level the game after 15 minutes. England hit back quickly with Lydia Thompson working a play straight off the training pitch to rip open the defence, eventually winning a penalty.
The ball was whipped out from the maul to Emily Scarratt, who leaped to England’s second try. The hosts’ driving maul came into play next but Alex Callender brought it down illegally and was sent to the sin bin. The hosts took full advantage of being a player up with Marlie Packer crashing over off the back of a maul.
England’s fourth came through a penalty try. There was a worry for the team shortly before as Lark Davies was replaced by Amy Cokayne and Middleton did not have a conclusive answer on Davies’s injury. Ellie Kildunne wrapped up the first half with the Red Roses’ fifth as England outnumbered Wales on the wing.
The Red Roses continued their scoring ways immediately after the break with Cokayne going over from a driving maul and the replacement hooker was instrumental in their next try, running a great line to feed Rowland, who sprinted over. Scarratt lodged her complaints after her conversion was charged down by Callender but the referee, Aurélie Groizeleau, was happy.
England kept hammering the Welsh line and found another score through Scarratt. A slick team try followed with replacements Claudia MacDonald, Aitchison and Hannah Botterman putting it through the hands to put Rowland through for her hat-trick.
Botterman and Zoe Aldcroft finished off an impressive display with their fire firmly lit to win back the trophy they have not had their hands on since 2014.
Wales, too, will be on a plane to New Zealand for the World Cup and their captain, Hannah Jones, said: “We have a bit of time now to hurt, to reflect. We have got to pick ourselves up, there is a quick turnaround.”