England’s women, with their fly-half Katy Daley-McLean controlling the game impressively behind a powerful pack, secured a triple crown with victory over Ireland in Coventry on Friday night. But it was only a consolation.
Half an hour after they had left the Ricoh Arena pitch they learned in the dressing room that France had won the Grand Slam and taken England’s Six Nations title with a convincing 38-3 win over Wales in Colwyn Bay. As England had feared, their last-minute defeat in Grenoble had taken their fate out of their own hands.
Simon Middleton says this team are a work in progress but Sarah Hunter’s side recovered well from the disappointment at the Stade des Alpes last Saturday. Hunter herself gave a commanding performance at No 8 but once again it was the 18-year-old full-back Ellie Kildunne who illuminated the occasion.
Kildunne scored one of England’s five tries and, with some of her country’s bigger names now contracted to play sevens, she is one of a new breed who have grabbed their chance. She was always an attacking threat and has made a stunning start to her international career with nine tries from her first eight games.
Kildunne, who has switched seamlessly to full-back, was named the player of the match and there was another glimpse of the future when the Harlequins back-rower Shaunagh Brown, another outstanding prospect, came on after an hour to demonstrate her ball-carrying power.
England had a perfect start when the visitors, who were struggling to win any sort of possession, coughed the ball up at their own lineout and Daley-McLean cleverly side-footed the ball to the corner where Danielle Waterman beat Hannah Tyrrell to score the first try and a record 47th for England.
Ireland’s problems mounted when they lost their experienced fly-half Niamh Briggs who left the field for a head injury assessment. The Irish full-back Tyrrell landed a penalty but the England forwards turned on the power. Abbie Scott won a lineout and the pack drove forwards. Marlie Packer, at the back of the maul, scored the try. England were soon out of sight. Poppy Cleall took the ball at the lineout and this time the hooker Amy Cokayne was driven over.
Briggs returned and converted a penalty but after the break England’s domination continued. Hunter drove forwards from another lineout and England moved the ball wide where Lagi Tuima gave Kildunne the chance to show her turn of pace tosqueeze over in the corner.
The replacement Amber Reed found a huge gap to score a fifth try after some mesmerising footwork from Kildunne. Middleton emptied his bench with the prop Rochelle Clark coming on for her 137th Test. The flanker Claire Molloy at last gave Ireland something to celebrate on St Patrick’s Day eve with a try from a lineout drive.
France have deserved their grand slam and they scored six tries in North Wales but it was England’s night in Coventry with Daley-McLean converting four tries in her 99th Test.
Kildunne said: “It has been bit of rollercoaster and we were disappointed last weekend but it was good to end with a win. I’ve now got to concentrate on my A levels in June as I’m hoping to get to uni.” On the pitch she is learning fast.