Following a three-year absence the Women’s Rugby Super Series returned in style on Friday as 13 tries were scored across the two matches at the Chula Vista Training Center.
England scored the day’s opening try within seven minutes and would go on to record a convincing 38-5 bonus-point victory against the hosts, USA.
World champions New Zealand also breached the try-line early on in the day's second contest but the Black Ferns were made to work for the points as they took on a spirited Canada side.
With France waiting in the wings, it leaves the competition delicately poised heading into match-day two on Tuesday.
England 38-5 USA
England kicked off their Women’s Rugby Super Series campaign with a comfortable 38-5 bonus-point win over the USA in San Diego.
Simon Middleton’s England needed to beat the hosts to have any chance of overhauling New Zealand at the top of the World Rugby Women’s Rankings, and they struck early as Amber Reed’s cross-field kick found Poppy Cleall, who passed to Kelly Smith to score a try that was converted by Emily Scarratt.
The USA hit back almost immediately as Hope Rogers touched down on her return to the Women’s Eagles team, although sevens star Alev Kelter was unable to add the extras.
And the score would remain at 7-5 until the second quarter of the match, when tries from Claudia Macdonald, Scarratt and Heather Kerr put the Red Roses firmly in control.
The hosts were given hope at the start of the second half when Cleall was shown a yellow card. However, it was England who scored next as Kerr notched her second try to make light of the Red Roses’ numerical disadvantage.
And having gone back up to 15, England rubber-stamped their ascendancy with a sixth try as replacement scrum-half Natasha Hunt picked off an interception before running under the posts.
Scarratt converted to give England a 31-point lead and that is how the score stayed, although the hosts would finish with 14 women as debutant Olivia Ortiz was sent to the sin bin with two minutes remaining.
“It was a tough game, a very physical game which we expected. We couldn’t quite get our attacking game going but our set piece was really good at times,” England coach Middleton said.
“I thought the USA were outstanding for the first 10 or 15 minutes of the game in particular, they were very physical and came at us. However, what we did do was defend outstandingly well. So attacking wise plenty to work on but we really put in a great defensive shift.”
Canada 20-35 New Zealand
New Zealand began their campaign with a hard-fought 35-20 victory against Canada, who won the last edition of the tournament in 2016.
Canada had never beaten the Black Ferns prior to their meeting in San Diego, and they fell behind inside 10 minutes as Eloise Blackwell scored a try that was converted by Kendra Cocksedge.
The North Americans soon responded, though. Elissa Alarie was a thorn in New Zealand’s side for much of the 80 minutes and she struck in the 14th minute with Brianna Miller’s conversion levelling the scores.
As the game ticked into the second quarter the Black Ferns again took the lead as Carla Hohepa marked her first test in almost two years with a try that was again converted by Cocksedge.
A brace of Miller penalties reduced Canada’s arrears to just a single point with eight minutes of the half remaining but there was still time for Cocksedge to reply with six points of her own to send the Black Ferns into half-time with a 20-13 advantage.
It was a lead that New Zealand soon stretched. Canada invited pressure by diverting the restart into touch and following a period of possession, Cocksedge created the space for Chelsea Alley to score.
Canada hit back 10 minutes later as Sophie de Goede emerged with the ball following a multi-phase attack on the Black Ferns' line. Miller’s second conversion brought her side within seven points but it was as close as Canada would get.
Ayesha Leti-I’iga touched down in the left corner following a flowing Black Ferns attack just after the hour mark, and although Cocksedge missed the conversion she would add a 70th-minute penalty that gave her side a 15-point cushion and took the game beyond Canada’s reach.
The defeat means that Canada will fall one place in the World Rugby Women's Rankings when they update on Monday, swapping places with France.
Photos: Travis Prior