Poppy Cleall shines as England rout Scotland in Women’s Six Nations

The Women’s Six Nations has a new format but in this curtain-raiser in Doncaster it was the same old story. Castle Park may have been silent but there is little doubt England, who ran in eight tries, will be the big noises of the championship once again.

Much of the attention in Yorkshire was on England’s young fly-half Helena Rowland, the successor, at least for now, to Katy Daley-McLean, who retired at Christmas. Rowland, who will go back into the sevens lineup to prepare for the Tokyo Olympics when the Six Nations is over, showed she is proficient at 15-a-side rugby, too. In truth, though, she had something of an armchair ride behind a dominant Red Roses pack in which Poppy Cleall, at No 8 in the absence of Sarah Hunter, the captain, was a real force.

The second half was scrappy after England had stretched their lead to 30 points by the break and saw a flurry of yellow and red cards, with Scotland’s replacement Molly Wright sent off and England at one stage having 13 players on the field.

“We can play better than that,” said Cleall after the game. “We’ll have to improve our discipline for one thing. We’ve been watching the men’s game and how the new laws work and have to get up to speed a bit.”

Marlie Packer scored the first try of the tournament by the posts after a power surge by the England forwards nine minutes in as the Red Roses began to click through their gears. Scotland defended defiantly in the opening stages, but Emily Scarratt, captaining the side, looked a constant threat as the grand slam champions surged forward in white waves. Leanne Riley, the Harlequins scrum-half, darted over for a second try and Scotland sensed it was going to be a long

Helen Nelson put Scotland on the scoreboard with a penalty, something of a triumph for a side that had failed to score in this fixture in the last two meetings. But the lineout, a traditional strength for England, was soon to give them a third try when Lark Davies was driven over by the pack. Bryony Cleall, hair bleached to distinguish her from her sister, dived over for a try that gave England a bonus point. It was a heart-warming moment as the prop has battled back from a run of injuries that has meant her second cap comes two years after her first.

Rowland’s cross-kick was not the best but it fell into the arms of Jess Breach, whose mazy run gave her a try with the last move of the first half.

Scotland were chasing English shadows in the sunshine and, playing into the wind in the second half, life continued to be tough. The visitors were not helped when they lost their captain, Rachel Malcolm. The flanker failed to come out for the second half after injuring her left knee in the opening minutes.

Rowland darted over for a first England try after some lovely footwork on the left-hand touchline by Breach before there was some respite for Scotland when Poppy Cleall was shown a yellow card for killing the ball. With a player advantage Scotland pounded away at the home line and Hannah Smith scored her sixth international try. Davies followed Cleall into the sin-bin for a high tackle on Scotland’s No 8, Siobhan Cattigan, reducing England to 13 players for three minutes.

Things began to unravel for Scotland, though, when the hooker Wright was sent off for another high tackle, on Vickii Cornborough. Scotland’s brief revival was over. Abbie Ward leapt at the lineout and Poppy Cleall was driven over. Another try was ruled out when Poppy Cleall was ruled to have knocked on when the England pack drove forwards. The replacement Ellie Kildunne had a chance of a try but also knocked on against the tiring Scottish defence before a penalty try took England to the half-century mark.

England will fly off to Padova on Thursday, ready to meet an Italy team expected to provide them with a sterner test than this.