Free-flowing England revel in new look under Mitchell

Tatyana Heard
On the surface, England's victory against Wales is exactly what we have come to expect from the Red Roses.

The 46-10 victory extended their Guinness Women's Six Nations winning streak to 26 matches, with the eight tries they ran in indicative of their continued dominance over those on the other side of the Severn Bridge.

The win also continues their clean slate in this year’s Championship and puts them one step closer to securing a third successive Grand Slam title.

But while this may be familiar English dominance, this is not the same England.

In his first home game, head coach John Mitchell ushered in an era of exciting, free-flowing rugby; one that has strength in depth, as well as an ability to draw on reliable weapons.

Only 18 months ago, the reigning champions faced criticism for an over-reliance on their lethal set-piece attack.

But against Wales, a side who has not seen victory over them since 2015, that weapon was used just once when hooker Lark Atkin-Davies dotted down from the back of a trademark rolling maul.

Instead, the fresh midfield axis of Tatyana Heard and Meg Jones were direct and dangerous, Jones setting out her stall early on with a break from her own 22 before offering a neat grubber for Jess Breach to pick up.

The play may not have seen Breach over, but it obtained the field position that facilitated Hannah Botterman’s close range try in the 24th minute.

Behind them, Breach, Abby Dow and the increasingly impressive Ellie Kildunne added zip, pace, and invention with Kildunne exuding plenty of the latter to score her second and England's eighth.

There is depth too, with centre Sydney Gregson earning her first cap since 2015 and Holly Aitchison switching from fly-half to midfield in the second-half, while Mitchell could afford to leave Emily Scarratt and Helena Rowland out of the squad altogether.

It all added up to an entertaining brand of rugby befitting of the record crowd outside of Twickenham of 19,705, something captain Marlie Packer revealed is continuing to push them to raise their standards.

“We want to let the handbrake off and play,” she said.

“Balls will go down at some points of the game because of how we’re trying to play but hopefully it’s exciting rugby.

“We had 19,000 fans here today, probably many more on TV – we want them to keep coming back, we want them to see some real good rugby.

“We want to put an exciting brand of rugby out on the pitch, to do that we need to bring energy and just play.”

For this new style of attacking mindset, look no further than Kildunne’s acrobatic finish to seal her second try of the game, and fourth of the Championship.

Working to the corner, Kildunne managed to ground the ball while being bundled into touch, twisting her body back in a move that seemed to defy physics.

She told the crowd post-match “I’m not very good at gymnastics”, but the full back’s commitment exemplifies the Red Roses’ willingness to score in a variety of ways, something Mitchell has incorporated into his approach.

“[Playing with creativity] has been a focal point, without taking away our strengths as well,” explained Mitchell.

“I think we’re very fortunate that we can play probably three different types of games based on the context.

“As you saw today, we went to the edge early which got us into the game – that’s what we’re after.

“There were times where we went to our power game and times when we also went to our kick chase game.

“To be a good team and for this team to grow we have to find different ways to score, make sure that we can play the game in different ways and be adaptable”.

For Wales, it was a case of what might have been as Ioan Cunningham's side showed plenty of promise early on but ultimately went into the break with just Lleucu George's sole penalty to show for their efforts.

But Cunningham insisted he will take plenty of positives from the defeat, and urged his side to show more cutting edge against Ireland in a fortnight's time.

He said: "I’m very encouraged. If I’m honest, I thought we probably left four, five tries out on the field today. Especially that first half, we had four entries into the 22 and came away with no points.

"It’s showing what we can do but it’s just [about] being more clinical, that’s what we need to do moving forward.

"I don’t think it’s one single thing, I think there are a few things there. It’s composure and calmness when we are in those areas. It’s confidence and belief as well.

"The occasion today was fantastic, the atmosphere was brilliant and just having that clarity when you are under that pressure. We’ve shown in other games that we can do it. It’s just something we’ve got to learn and learn as quick as we can."