England teams over the years have not had a happy time at Cardiff Arms Park and Wales did their best to make this an uncomfortable afternoon. On Grand National day the hosts gave their opponents a run for their money in the first half before the floodgates opened after the interval and it is England who are galloping toward another grand slam.
Abby Dow, who broke her leg in this fixture last year, scored the best of their nine tries, a spectacular effort in the last move before the break. England, that World Cup final defeat last autumn a distant memory, are in a ruthless mood. They have scored 31 tries in this Six Nations and Ireland will not look forward to their visit to Musgrave Park next Saturday.
England made nonsense of the suggestion that they are a one-dimensional side with a big rolling maul. They have the power but also plenty more besides, and when the game threatened to end chaotically after Simon Middleton’s side found themselves with 13 players on the field thanks to two yellow cards, England simply turned to their replacements to submerge Wales under a barrage of tries.
The Red Roses have overcome the obstacle of losing a number of key players, including two of their greatest in the retired Sarah Hunter and the injured Emily Scarratt. Wales, with their own squad of professionals, were unbeaten and full of hope that they could repeat their 2009 victory over England but there were no similar celebrations here, just another sobering experience.
In the bright, spring sunshine Wales took the game to England. Keira Bevan landed a penalty, the least Wales deserved for their early pressure, only for the wing Lowri Norkett to make a horrible error from the restart, knocking on close to her own line.
England, though, failed to take advantage and, with Wales’s 19-year-old tight-head prop Sisilia Tuipulotu putting the visitors’ scrum under immense pressure, it was clear the visitors were in for their first real test of this tournament.
England continued to make handling mistakes in the face of stifling defence and the game was 26 minutes old before it was breached. Dow found some space on the left wing and the ball was recycled for Lucy Packer to cleverly twist and turn and crash over the line.
The kicking of conversions in the women’s game had come under scrutiny during the week but Emma Sing, making a first international start, had no trouble landing her effort from close to the touchline.
The tide slowly turned. England’s pack rumbled forwards from a lineout before the fly-half Holly Aitchison’s clever kick allowed Tatyana Heard to score her side’s second try. England then took the game away from Wales in the final seconds of the first half with a stunning try. They elected to take a tap penalty, moved the ball quickly and Aitchison flung a huge pass to Dow who, just inside the Wales half, eluded five would-be tacklers down the left touchline before scoring a try that will not be bettered in this tournament.
Wales had enjoyed more possession but were 16 points down at the break. Things got worse for them early in the second half when Tuipulotu went down clutching her left shoulder, but the teenager played on only for Wales’s pain to continue. From a lineout England moved the ball wide and Aitchison, ignoring a two-woman overlap, cruised over thanks to a nice change of speed, ensuring a try bonus point.
England’s momentum was now unstoppable. Sarah Bern’s jinking run and clever offload gave Jess Breach, quiet until now, the chance to run in a fifth try before the replacement Ellie Kildunne, moments after replacing Sing, got on the scoresheet as a defensive red sea parted.
The last thing Wales wanted was to face the onslaught with 14 players but when Kate Williams was penalised for a high tackle on Marlie Packer, the replacement back-rower was sent to the sin-bin. England’s replacement props Maud Muir and Hannah Botterman made Wales pay with short-range tries.
It was then England’s turn to see yellow when Marlie Packer and the replacement hooker May Campbell joined Williams in the sin-bin for high tackles. England, however, shrugged off the problem of playing with 13 and losing their captain.
Another replacement, Sarah Beckett, also shrugged off the frustration of missing out on a World Cup spot with a bullocking run and England’s final try.
Marlie Packer, who has been in superlative form in this Six Nations, said: “We went down to 13 but the test of character within the group was really good.
“There are only 10 players who played in the World Cup final and I am really proud of the new players in this group.”