In contrast to the vast majority of media coverage in the last few days, English rugby union actually isn’t in a particularly bad shape right now. In fact, it’s probably in the best shape it’s been since 2003. At least if you’re a fan of the women’s game, where England opened their 3-match Test series against New Zealand last Friday with an outstanding comeback victory, defeating the Black Ferns 16-13 having trailed 3-13 at half time. To run in 13 unanswered points against any New Zealand rugby union team is a remarkable achievement and displays the kind of tight control over a game that Stuart Lancaster must be fervently wishing he could instil in the men’s team.
With a third and final test to contend with on Saturday at Twickenham, England Head Coach Gary Street made nine changes for this evening’s second Test with a new centre partnership in Amber Reed and Joanne Watmore brought in to freshen up the three-quarter line and a new front row made up of Rosemarie Crowley, Emma Croker and Sophie Hemming providing the power up front. That Street’s two new centres were both debutantes in the France autumn international is a frankly scary indication of the strength in depth England enjoy at present.
Having not lost to the Black Ferns in 4 consecutive Tests, England’s new look line-up went into this evening’s contest in justifiably confident mood and saw tries in each half, the first from openside flanker Hannah Gallagher and the last from Joanne Watmore with just minutes left on the clock sealing a 17-8 victory to leave England with an unassailable 2-0 series lead ahead of the final Test. Emily Scarratt provided the remaining points for England while New Zealand will feel they had chances to take victory themselves having trailed by just 2 points going into the final few minutes with England reduced to 14 after first Hannah Gallagher and then Katy McLean earned stints in the sin bin late on.
While Saturday’s Test will have no ultimate bearing on the series result, the opportunity to finish off 2012’s international campaign at Twickenham and live on Sky Sports ought to provide enough motivation to ensure another fantastically close game.
image from SLIK images sports photography Flickr page http://www.flickr.com/photos/tobinatorsltd/ (thanks!)