England ran in eight tries to beat New Zealand in Northampton and knew the conquered world champions weren’t at their best. But that didn’t stop the Red Roses looking every inch the No 1 side in the world with the world cup just over a year away.
The 56-15 reverse at Franklin’s Gardens was New Zealand’s heaviest ever defeat as England became the first side to put 50 points past the Black Ferns. The Red Roses were near faultless – head coach Simon Middleton’s challenge is to get his side playing even better than that.
“If you take the glimpses of New Zealand’s best play today that is what they will be next year, how they finished the game, that is what they will take away,” said Middleton. “They play with such inhibition that when they get it right, it’s really difficult to defend.
“They are an exceptional side, and they have got some good players to come back in and to travel halfway around the world, having not played for a couple of years, that gives you perspective.”
The Red Roses get their perspective from knowing they can improve in attack and defence. New Zealand’s three tries came from Portia Woodman and Stacey Fluhler, two of the best players in the world.
“I think we did some great stuff over the last couple of weeks, and hopefully we’ll do some more over next month, the next couple weeks as well,” added Middleton.
“But if you take the very best of them over the last couple of weeks and we will have to be better than we have been in the last two weeks to win the World Cup for sure. We’re confident that we can do better.”
The options Middleton has at his disposal are seemingly endless.
Hooker Amy Cokayne became the first player to ever score a hat-trick against New Zealand, with the Black Ferns unable to stop her in the driving maul on each occasion, before replacement Lark Davies got another in the same fashion.
Helena Rowland came into the starting XV and ran New Zealand ragged as did Ellie Kildunne and Abby Dow who both got on the scoresheet with breaks at speed.
At scrum-half Leanne Infante also went over for England as she matched Claudia MacDonald’s impressive performance from last week, while Zoe Harrison converted every try to stamp her claim on the No 10 shirt.
All that is without World Player of the Year Emily Scarratt even in the squad, as she recovers from a broken leg, and with captain Sarah Hunter on the bench.
Poppy Cleall even admitted she felt like an armchair viewer as she made her debut as captain, with the Red Roses now a well-oiled machine.
“I’m proud as punch, that is the statement I want to make, it was a phenomenal experience and one I will never forget,” said Cleall. “The day was an amazing day, tops making my debut for England when I ran out and it was just a pleasure to play with these incredible athletes.”
Perhaps the only thing that would top it would be lifting the world cup in New Zealand next year as England surge towards a third title, having won it in 2014 and 1994.
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