England’s World Cup preparations continued with a scrappy victory over the USA Eagles that made the Red Roses the first tier-one nation to win 24 games in a row – a blistering statistic to have five weeks out from the tournament in New Zealand. The stat will add to England’s tag of being favourites to win the trophy.
Simon Middleton said he was using the game as a “discovery match” for the World Cup squad selection, released on 20 September. The entire matchday 23 largely had impressive performances but Middleton says the match has answered some questions.
“We learned a lot about the things we wanted to learn about,” the head coach. “Next week’s team [against Wales] will look very different.”
The match began with sustained USA pressure but Ellie Kildunne ripped the ball to give England a foothold. A Red Roses five-metre scrum followed not long after and England dominated with their scrum-half, Natasha Hunt, peeling away and crashing over. It was not long until the crowd were on their feet again as Jess Breach intercepted the ball and, in a moment of individual brilliance, ran 60 metres to score.
England continued to hammer the line in search of their third try and thought they had it but after a lengthy TMO check it was ruled no try.
USA’s Hallie Taufo’ou did receive her marching orders to the bin and the Red Roses took full advantage with Amy Cokayne crashing over.
The scores kept coming for England. It was a dream return for Claudia MacDonald, who has recovered from a neck injury, as the player of the match nabbed England’s fourth try and a few moments later Breach once again ran half the pitch to score.
The USA looked to land a punch of their own before the break, pointing to the sticks for a penalty. But Gabby Cantorna, who plays here for Exeter, missed the kick.
The USA had their first prolonged attack in the 22 after half-time but a knock-on gave England a scrum. They worked the ball upfield, eventually coming to MacDonald on the wing, who scored.
England’s deadly rolling maul secured the next try with Cokayne reaping the rewards. They could have inflicted more damage but another maul score was chalked off for obstruction.
It was the USA’s time to celebrate as Alev Kelter found a pocket of space, she pinged the ball to Hope Rogers, who thundered over the line, banishing the dread of being beaten to nil.
After the conversion the referee, Aurélie Groizelea, was brought to the screen as Shaunagh Brown put in a high tackle and Groizelea sent her to the bin. It went from bad to worse for England as Helena Rowland was shown yellow for a deliberate knock-on, for which the USA bagged a penalty try.
England were down to 13 but they still added to the scoreboard. Harrison kicked the ball through and the bounce was kind for Kildunne, who scored.
MacDonald said it was emotional to be back after her injury almost led her to retire. “I didn’t think it would change the way I approached it,” she said. “I thought I would get back, be super competitive and I probably was until I walked out on the pitch today.
“The last 24, 48 hours have been a bit emotional. I’ve been getting really excited, relieved, I’m so grateful to be back in this place and I couldn’t have loved being back on the pitch more today. The noise from the crowd was immense, the cheering from them, it was amazing.”
If the Red Roses beat Wales in their friendly on 14 September, they will become the first international rugby team to be victorious in 25 consecutive matches. It would be a perfect platform from which to launch their bid for World Cup glory.