England head coach Simon Middleton hailed his side’s rearguard action after they opened up their Women’s Rugby Super Series campaign with a 38-5 victory over the United States.
The Red Roses enjoyed a perfect start to their title defence thanks to a brilliant brace from Heather Kerr as they secured a six-try triumph against the hosts in San Diego.
Further tries from Kelly Smith, Claudia Macdonald, Natasha Hunt and Emily Scarratt, who also added eight points with the boot, ensured England also picked up a valuable bonus point.
But despite showing their attacking pedigree, Middleton was more impressed with the way the reigning Women’s Six Nations counteracted USA’s physicality in defence.
“It was a tough game, a very physical game, which we expected,” he said. “We couldn’t quite get our attacking game going but our set-piece was really good at times.
“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. It is a bonus-point win and it gets us up and running.
“Everyone has got some game time under the belt now and there is a bit more conditioning with the heat, so we’re really pleased with the overall outcome of the game.”
England kicked off the scoring when Amber Reed, who was celebrating her 50th cap, weighted a crossfield kick to Poppy Cleall, who in turn fed Smith for the try.
The hosts levelled five minutes later when a couple of powerful forward drives saw Hope Rogers cross from close range – but that would prove to be the USA’s only points of the game.
Macdonald’s sniping run off the back of a ruck saw her dart in from ten metres for her first England try before Scarratt intercepted a USA attack to canter in under the posts.
She converted her own score and England increased their advantage on the cusp of half-time when Kerr drove over for the bonus-point try, making it 26-5 at the break.
The Red Roses continued in the same vein after the break, with Kerr grabbing her second off the back of a driving maul despite Cleall being shown a yellow card following the restart.
And the sixth try was not far behind as Hunt pounced on a loose kick by the Eagles to gather and sprint over the whitewash from just outside their 22, Scarratt adding the extras again.
The victory was England’s 18th straight win over the USA in all competitions since their first meeting at the 1991 Women’s Rugby World Cup final, which saw the Eagles triumph.
Middleton’s side, who won the tournament in 2017, face Canada next Sunday in the round-robin competition before meeting Six Nations rivals France and New Zealand.
England lost to New Zealand in the 2017 World Cup final, but have now won 16 of their 17 Tests since, including the clean sweep in this year’s Six Nations as they completed the Grand Slam.