England co-captain Sarah Hunter received the perfect send-off as she retired after the Red Roses demolished Scotland in their Women’s Six Nations opener. Hunter, who holds her country’s overall standings record, received a standing ovation from the 10,053 supporters when she was substituted after 58 minutes in her hometown of Newcastle.
After 141 caps, 10 Six Nations titles, nine Grand Slams and a World Cup, Hunter led the team for one last time and had tears in his eyes as the national anthem played. The emotion poured out in a strong performance from the defending champions who ran in 10 tries, including a hat-trick from player of the match Marlie Packer.
England, which for the first time had the names of its players on the back of its shirt, started shaking. Claudia MacDonald struck and their early attacking phases ended in a Scottish turnover. But their free-kick was solid, earning a scrum penalty after knocking Scotland back, and they not only had accurate lineouts but also stole them.
The hosts got rid of early mistakes and were the first to draw blood. A pass from Holly Aitchison saw co-captain Packer in space and she made a slick line break. A few phases later, MacDonald was done and center Amber Reed added the extras.
England had another handling error, this time with Abby Dow hitting on a high dropped ball. Scotland had the scrum accordingly and quickly went on the attack. Emma Orr had a great break and an impressive play between her and Helen Nelson sent Scotland a few yards away, but they were stopped by a tackle. The visitors kept coming but their resilience went unrewarded, with Simon Middleton’s side next to score.
England extended their attack down the field, finding no chance in the left corner but they whipped it to the right and found prostitute Amy Cokayne on the wing to crash. The tee was returned to Lagi Tuima, with Reed injured, but she was unsuccessful.
There were soon three tries before 24 minutes with the crowd erupting as MacDonald received the ball into space. She beat five defenders and raced halfway to score a superb solo effort.
And it wasn’t just the full-backs enjoying their day in the sunshine despite the Newcastle cloud, with prop Sarah Bern taking a line break to put fans on their feet in preparation for the bonus points try. After the Bern break, England encountered a Scottish defensive wall but substitute Tatyana Heard punched a hole before completing the move.
England kicked into high gear after 30 minutes and their famous maul came into action. Scotland did well to defend her initially, moving her to the side, but the Red Roses eventually walked with Cokayne who got good again.
Scotland captain Rachel Malcolm had spoken of the team adapting their attacking play ahead of the tournament and previews have emerged here. Winger Francesca McGhie was quick to find the visitors’ first goal but tried to offload quickly and England pounced to win it back. The hosts attempted another attack but an ambitious pass to Jess Breach made contact and the players found themselves at half-time with the score at 31-0.
Poppy Cleall took less than two minutes into the second 40 to score, fleeing the attacking set to find a hole in the Scottish defence. England were in possession again and Zoe Aldcroft ignored Christine Belisle to gain ground before unloading on Sadia Kabeya, the back rower storming the line.
Scotland broke through the England defense with Nelson going a few yards but mistakes were their downfall. Hanging on to the ruck gave the hosts an out and they kicked into the corner. The deadly maul was swung into action and Packer dotted. The loudest cheer of the afternoon came next when Hunter was substituted. Coaches and fans were on their feet as his pioneering career came to an end.
England continued the frantic scoring, the maul again the team’s weapon with back rower Packer once more. The free kick was again a hit and gave Packer his hat-trick. Just before Packer won gold for the third time, there was bad news for England as the injured Cleall needed help off the pitch.
Scotland had the last laugh in a tasty game between former rivals as they came alive after debutant Beth Blacklock took a huge break, they won a penalty and kicked into the corner . The visitors flicked the ball through their hands and Chloe Rollie’s pace found the way to score.
Rollie was off again and ran rings around Breach, eventually being tackled a few yards away. England thought they had snuffed out the attack with a breakdown penalty, but Scotland fought back from the lineout. However, they were held back to end the clash.