Zoe Harrison belies her tender years to guide England to record-breaking win over New Zealand
England Women 43-12 New Zealand Women
Red Roses keep No.1 ranking after big victory against undercooked Black Ferns
Zoe Harrison puts in a player of the match display as hosts underline World Cup favourites tag
As Zoe Harrison grasped the bottle of champagne the outstanding fly half won for player of the match there was a sense of just how much Simon Middleton’s side have grown. That is quite a statement considering England have won the past three consecutive Six Nations titles. But after after the seven-try, record win over New Zealand one that is justified.
The Black Ferns had snatched the world title from their hosts in 2017 and were playing in their 100th Test. But they were blown away by an imperious England – the win built on a muscular and dominant display at the lineout.
It is worth noting that the New Zealanders had not played a competitive Test in over two years and had four debutants in their starting XV and a further five on the bench. If England are, as many predict, to meet Sunday’s opponents in the World Cup final in Auckland in just over a year’s time, one gets the impression it will be a very different encounter to what transpired at Sandy Park.
Putting that aside, England are, however, starting to answer questions that have loomed over them for the past year. When Katy Daley-McLean – the 2014 World Cup winning captain – announced her retirement from international rugby last December there were question marks around the identity of her successor. Zoe Harrison had looked likely to take over the No.10 shirt but it was Helena Rowland, made redundant from the England Sevens programme, who had the first opportunity to stake a claim.A string of commanding performances in the Six Nations put her in a strong position.
On Sunday Rowland started on the bench, though, and Harrison grabbed her chance to show what she can do, giving a complete performance. The way in which she orchestrated England’s attack was reminiscent of Owen Farrell, her male counterpart at Saracens, who she apparently tries to emulate.
England head coach Simon Middleton explained the process the 23 year-old has undertaken to get to a point where she is was one of the chief architects of New Zealand’s defeat.
“This season, she has matured massively as a player and a person, you see it week in, week out with Sarries this year and she has been great in training. She has been very influential in terms of our leadership group, she is still very young and is leading a very experienced group of forwards and it takes guile and bottle to do that,” he said.
“She is starting to own it and today she was sensational; it is great. Hopefully it is a performance she can springboard from and keep the momentum of her development going. I think it is just a growth process as a player. These are young kids, there is a lot of responsibility being put on them because for our fly halves like Zoe and Helena coming out of the shadow of [Katy Daley-Mclean], who ruled the England show from 10 for the past 10 years or so.”
A pair of early tries from lock Abbie Ward set the tone for the match. After that brace Ellie Kildunne exploited a gap in New Zealand’s defensive line with some nimble footwork to put the hosts in complete control just before the interval.
Tries followed in the second half from hooker Lark Davies, debutant Holly Aitchison – who started in place of the injured Emily Scarratt – Abby Dow and Zoe Harrison as England stretched their winning streak to 15 games.
New Zealand lacked their usual ruthlessness in what was a battle for the World No 1 spot. And head coach Glenn Moore was left to bemoan the side’s lineout woes. “It wasn’t what we set out for obviously. But essentially we couldn’t get any platform to work off. The lineout went very poorly and England capitalised on that. They had really good continuity in that today.
“England did a really good job of putting us under pressure at the lineout. We probably didn’t react or regroup the way we should have. They played, very well.”
The Black Ferns were only able to cross the whitewash twice. Blindside Alana Bremner – who was sent to the sin bin in the second half – and Stacey Fluhler – a Tokyo sevens gold medallist – both scoring after half time to make the scoreline a little more respectable for the visitors.
However, England captain Sarah Hunter told her team-mates to expect a backlash from the women in black next week at Franklin’s Gardens. “We will enjoy the win this evening because these wins don’t come often but our focus will shift from tomorrow because New Zealand will come hard. They will be hurting after that and we expect them to come at us. We have to enjoy these occasions when they come.”
England: E Kildunne (S McKenna 70); L Thompson, H Aitchison, L Tuima (H Rowland 70), A Dow; Z Harrison, C MacDonald (L Infante 70); H Botterman (V Cornborough 56), L Davies (A Cokayne 56), S Bern (M Muir 58), P Cleall (H Millar-Mills 69), A Ward, Z Aldcroft, M Packer (A Matthews 58), S Hunter.
New Zealand: R Holmes; R Wickliffe, S Fluhler, C Alley, A Leti-l’iga; R Demant, K Cocksedge (A Bayler 72); P Love (K Murray 52), T Ngata-Aerengamate (G Houpapa-Barrett 52), AP Nelson (A Itunu 59), E Blackwell, K Wills, L Bremner, L Elder, D Faleafaga.
On the emotion of securing the record-breaking win…
“The emotions are really high. We’ve worked really hard and we exceeded what we thought we were going to do. I’m not sure many people know that. I’ve just been told walking over here. I think when everyone is told that they are going to go even more nuts in the changing rooms.”
What a statement of intent. Seven tries, a dominant performance and a scoreline the doesn’t flatter the Red Roses. It’s England’s biggest win over the Black Ferns, who, if truth be told, looked a bit off the pace.
Zoe Harrison has been named player of the match – the forwards have down what they needed to do and allowed Harrison at 10 to play on the front foot. She’s kicked well and orchestrated this impressive England victory.
New Zealand keep the ball alive trying to force the play but Abby Dow reads it well and intercepts a poor pass and runs in from 40 yards. That’s game over, thanks to Dow’s 20th England try. Harrison adds the extras.
The Black Ferns have tried and tried in this half to breach the England line more than once but everything they’re trying isn’t coming off. England are defending brilliantly and concerted pressure from New Zealand doesn’t translate into any points.
Better from the visitors – they finally see enough ball to build up some phases. They drive into the England 22, showing good hands in the process. There’s an infringement or two from England and New Zealand have the advantage. The visitors dive over the line and the white wall holds up brilliantly as New Zealand are held up over the line. There’s a goalline dropout.
Debut delight for Holly Aitchison. The ball comes down the backline, quick hands allow the debut girl a bit of space and she charges onto the ball at pace and runs in under the posts from 30 yards out. The conversion is missed.
No shock to see England forma driving maul from a lineout in the Black Ferns 22. It’s set up well and Lark Davies goes over from short range. Harrisson adds the extras and it’s a 17-point lead for the hosts once again.
New Zealand fail to find touch with a kick from the back of the scrum. England counter attack and again work a decent opportunity on the right flank BUT there’s a knock on and that’s a wasted chance with an extra player on the pitch.
Tuima shows the Black Ferns’ defence a clean pair of heels as she breaks the line. That sets up a ruck, the ruck speed has been brilliant for the hosts and Bremner is shown a yellow card for cynically trying to slow it down. England have an extra player and they seem to make it count immediately as Ward goes over. BUT it’s been knocked on and the try cannot be awarded.
New Zealand see a lot of early ball in this half – but with ball in hand it looks as though they are short of ideas THEN out of nothing Alley kicks short and Bremner pick it up and runs unopposed under the posts. They add the extras and are back in this match.
That was an impressive first half from the Red Roses. They were up against it early on but from the moment Abbie Ward went over the whitewash it’s been all England. They are keeping the ball alive well and are well worth their 17-point lead. The Black Ferns’ lineout is a mess and they’ve not been able to build any momentum as a result.
The ball is being kept alive and again England have an overlap but again they opt to come inside and they kick for touch – bit of a weird decision. England win the ball again off the New Zealand lineout, though, and from there they move the ball down the line and the ball is recycled well and the impressive Kildunne runs the ball into the corner. This has been a fine first half for the hosts.
The conversion is missed but England have a 17-o half-time lead.
Again the Black Ferns lose ball on their own lineout. England are in the visitors’ 22, they’re building up phases of play and there’s an overlap BUT they are penalised for holding on and the chance to add to their lead goes begging. That ball should have gone wider, sooner.
The Black Ferns have a scrum from which to mount a rare attack – the ball moves wide and Leti-l’iga makes 30 metres. They are using her as a battering ram with which to break the gainline. England’s defence, however, is again impressive and they steal the ball.
New Zealand need to build some momentum – they have the chance to do so with a penalty. They kick deep into England territory but once again their lineout isn’t working and they lose possession off their own throw.
Kildunne has looked the liveliest of the England backs and again she shows some fine footwork to break the line. England are building the phases in the opposition half. Dow makes some yards on the left before the ball comes inside. Cleall tries to go over from short range but is stopped. However, Abbie Ward goes one better with the next dive over the line and scores her second try in a matter of minutes. Harrison adds the extras.
Fine try after some great work form Poppy Cleall. The ball is then shipped out to the left where Dow breaks the line and makes 20 or so yards. The ball is then offloaded before Abby Ward touches down. Against the run of play but the home crowd won’t care. The extras are missed – not easy kicking in these conditions so it’s 5-0 to England.
It’s all New Zealand at the moment England are stuck in their 22. Again the hosts’ defence is made to work hard and again it is up to the task. Harrison kicks long into the empty backfield and it’s the Black Ferns now on the back foot.
England cannot find touch with a kick in their 22 and New Zealand come back at them. The visitors are keeping the ball alive but England impressively turn the ball over and this time do find touch. Once again they have defended well.
Good stuff from the Black Ferns, they’ve come to play and get the ball down the line, keeping the ball alive they are asking questions of the England defence which is up to the task and they get the goalline drop out.
England’s scrum has been patchy recently, the first scum of the match is here. The hosts need the set piece to be strong against the Black Ferns. The visitors win it and kick into touch inside the England 22.
Great start from England – they win an early penalty and kick for touch. From the resulting lineout the England pack create a driving maul the visitors are struggling to deal with, England are within five yards of the line. They win another penalty and again kick for touch. They are testing the Black Ferns.
14 – The #RedRoses are on a 14-game winning run at the moment, having not lost since their final match of the 2019 Super Series in the USA, that defeat coming at the hands of New Zealand however. Wary. https://t.co/OtYM2EdXF9
The women’s teams of England and New Zealand will wear instrumented mouthguards that record data in training and in two upcoming matches between the two sides as part of a head impact study, World Rugby have announced.
The devices contain an impact monitor data acquisition system that collects and transmits data every time there is a collision between players or players and the ground.
Every impact, including those that are not directly involving the head, will be recorded by the mouthguards and be matched to time-coded video for analysis.
The initiative is part of World Rugby’s six-point player welfare plan with a focus on head impact prevention, which was launched in July.
“It’s great for the Black Ferns to be involved, especially because it will help improve the knowledge around female rugby players. We’re also proud to be playing a role in improving the game and making it safer for everyone,” said New Zealand captain Les Elder.
The devices are developed by US-based Prevent Biometrics, who have already been working with World Rugby and more than 700 grass-roots players in New Zealand.
World Rugby chief medical officer Eanna Falvey said: “We are delighted that the top two ranked women’s international teams have joined this landmark study… we will have data from well over 1,000 participants at every level of the game recorded via the same comparable technology, which is vital for comparison and accuracy purposes.”
England and New Zealand face each other at Exeter’s Sandy Park today before a second meeting a week later