England Women continued their fine start to the new season with a gritty 10-12 win over Ireland at University College Dublin.
The Red Roses took the lead through the record-breaking Rochelle Clark but were pegged back by a Nora Stapleton penalty on the stroke of half-time on Sunday November 13th in Ireland.
The home side took the lead after the break through a well-taken Stapleton score, and her conversion sailed through the uprights to give Ireland a five-point advantage.
However, the Red Roses refused to lie down and they levelled the score late on through an Izzy Noel-Smith try, and after Katy Mclean’s superb conversion from out wide they were ahead again.
Simon Middleton’s side defiantly held on for the remainder of the match, and they have now won four of their last five meetings between the two sides, moving up to number two in the world rankings in the process ahead of Canada.
England will next face New Zealand on Saturday (kick-off 12 noon) at Twickenham Stoop in the second match of the Old Mutual Wealth Series before playing Canada on 26 November at Twickenham in a rematch of the 2014 World Cup final.
Determined Red Rose defence
England showed great resilience in the first 30 minutes of the game, denying a fired-up Ireland side any opportunities to register points in front of a vocal home crowd.
Centres Claire Allan and Rachael Burford made numerous tackles out wide as Ireland looked to provide width to their attacks.
14 minutes before half-time Ireland thought they had broken England’s determined defence but flanker Marlie Packer made a crucial tackle on Niamh Kavanagh as the Irish wing nearly broke through.
Record-breaking Clark scores on her landmark appearance
Clark made history in this match by becoming England’s most-capped player in the game, overtaking former prop Jason Leonard with 115 international appearances.
She marked the occasion with a well-taken try six minutes before the break, the dynamic Vicky Fleetwood broke from the back of a maul but was hauled down five metres short of the line.
The Worcester Valkyries prop then collected the ball and showed her immense power to drag herself over the line.
If Clark features against New Zealand or Canada in the remainder of the Old Mutual Wealth Series she will become the most-capped women’s player of all-time, overtaking her coach at Worcester Donna Kennedy.
Catch and drive becoming an effective weapon for England
England scored their third try from a driving maul in the space of two games through Noel-Smith’s score eight minutes from time.
Noel-Smith was in fact a late replacement for Alex Matthews, who withdrew from the starting line up through concussion, and the Bristol flanker took her chance with a crucial try.
With the scores level at 10-10, Mclean’s superb strike from out wide sailed through the middle of the posts to put the Red Roses two points ahead – an advantage they held onto.
‘We’ve set our marker here now’
Prop-forward Clark was delighted to mark her record-breaking 115th cap with her 22nd try for her country, and she was proud of the commitment shown by her team-mates to win on the ground where Pool matches will be played in next year’s Rugby World Cup.
“Vicky Fleetwood did really well, making a great carry towards the line, and I just saw my opportunity and went for it,” said Clark. “I drove my legs as hard as I could and it was awesome to get across the line.
“To be the most-capped England player now is fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed the day and it must be the luck of the Irish that I managed to squeeze over the line.
“It was amazing running out on my own and hearing the cheers of the crowd before the game. I’m very proud of the girls for digging deep and getting the win.
“We want to get a few more wins on this pitch during the World Cup next year. It was a really tough game but it was great to experience this arena and we’ve set our marker here now.”
Danielle Waterman, Kay Wilson, Claire Allan (Katy Mclean, 51), Rachael Burford (Ceri Large, 69) Fiona Pocock, Emily Scott, La Toya Mason (Natasha Hunt, 51); Rochelle Clark (Vickii Cornborough, 56) Vicky Fleetwood, Laura Keates (Justine Lucas, 56), Tamara Taylor, Harriet Millar-Mills (Poppy Cleall, 69), Izzy Noel-Smith, Marlie Packer (Amy Cokayne, 51), Sarah Hunter
Replacements not used: Sarah Bern
Tries: Clark (34), Noel-Smith (72)
Conversions: Mclean (73)
Mairead Coyne, Niamh Kavanagh, Nicole Fowley, Sene Naoupu, Alison Miller, Nora Stapleton, Larissa Muldoon; Lindsay Peat, Cliodhna Moloney, Ailis Egan, Marie Louise Reilly, Orla Fitzsimons, Ciara Griffin, Claire Molloy, Paula Fitzpatrick
Replacements: Leah Lyons, Fiona Hayes, Fiona Reidy, Katie Norris, Chloe Pearse, Mary Healy, Nikki Caughey, Jackie Shiels
Try: Stapleton (50)
Conversion: Stapleton (51)
Penalty: Stapleton (40)