A fabulous England performance saw them avenge last year’s defeat to France with a confident 41-26 victory on Sunday, while Wales held on to draw with Italy and Ireland bounced back to down Scotland in the two earlier games as the second round of the Women's Six Nations provided plenty of drama.
The Red Roses stormed into a 24-0 interval lead before defending Women’s Six Nations champions France fought back in an evenly-contested second half. Simon Middleton’s side are now three points clear at the top of the table with a 10-point maximum return, following on from their bonus-point win over Ireland in round one.
In scoring 15 tries and 92 points in securing consecutive bonus-point victories, England are in much the same position as they were last season after the opening two games, but this time it is Ireland and France, two of their main rivals for the title in recent years, who have been beaten rather than Italy and Wales.
Jess Breach’s double, one from Kelly Smith and the first of two tries from Poppy Cleal did the damage before the break as England ruthlessly tore the visitors’ defence to shreds. Les Bleues showed their true colours after the break, the ever-impressive Safi N’Diaye and Romane Menager scoring either side of a brace from Pauline Bourdon.
However, Cleal managed a second of her own in addition to further scores from Hannah Botterman and Cath O’Donnell as the majority of the 4,674-strong crowd at Doncaster’s Castle Park ground left for home happy.
With nearly half a rating point awarded to them in victory, England will edge closer to New Zealand’s Black Ferns at the top of the Women’s World Rugby Rankings, the gap between the two now down to 2.61 points, when they are updated at 12 noon on Monday.
Ireland on the up
Ireland were the biggest winners from a rankings’ perspective, Adam Griggs’ side set to move up two places to eighth above Wales and Spain after they overcame tough conditions in Glasgow to beat Scotland 22-5.
After a heavy defeat against England in round one, Ireland had a point to prove, and started the game in determined fashion, Nicole Fowley crossing to open the scoring. Scotland levelled through Hannah Smith but tight-head Leah Lyons' effort on the stroke of half-time handed the visitors the initiative.
Alison Miller, in her first start for a year, scored in the 45th minute to hand her side a double-figure advantage before Anna Caplice bagged the bonus point approaching the hour.
Scotland’s second defeat of the campaign is to cost them one-and-a-third rating points and 11th place in the rankings, South Africa moving up one place at their expense.
Points were at a premium in Lecce as Italy and Wales slogged it out for a 3-3 draw. Robyn Wilkins gave Wales the lead on the half-hour mark but Michael Sillari levelled the scores with one of her own midway through the second period.
Wales thought they’d won the game – and scored the first international try at the Stadio Via del Mar – when Jasmine Joyce crossed with eight minutes to go but her 70-metre effort was ruled out for a forward pass earlier in the build-up.