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England More Consistent in USA Win

  • 28 Jun 2019

England (#2) and host USA (#5) kicked off the Women’s Super Series at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center, and the Red Roses outscored the Eagles six tries to one, 38-5. England is dormant for round two, while the Eagles will play New Zealand (#1) on July 2.

RELATED: USA Roster vs. England

There were plenty of new players in this match, and so a degree of inconsistency was expected. Both sides committed a host of handling errors that chopped up play, but England’s stronger scrum kept the USA under pressure and drew advantageous penalties. When the Red Roses opted for touch, their driving lineout was unstoppable inside the 22.

The USA created opportunities most effectively through its defense. Hope Rogers was bananas over the ball and produced at least three turnovers. Big tackles from players like Eti Haungatua, Alev Kelter and Bulou Mataitoga shook the ball loose. But overall the Eagles could not hold onto the ball long enough to put more than one try on the board. Deeper into the phases, a sense of confusion infused open play, and passes hit the ground, sailed forward or ricocheted off fingertips.

The game was pretty even for the first quarter. England went up after approximately seven minutes when inside center Amber Reed chipped across the USA’s 22 to No. 8 Poppy Cleall. Reed, along with flyhalf Zoe Harrison deployed an excellent kicking game that kept the defense scrambling. Cleall lined up the defense coming across and put a well timed finishing pass into wing Kelly Smith’s hands for the try. Outside center Emily Scarratt kicked the first of four conversions.

A forward pass and a couple of penalties helped the USA get into good attacking territory, and some really nice, fast phases built to England’s five meter. Jojo Kitlinski nailed the long throw-in to Stacey Bridges and a couple of punches at the line followed. Ashlee Byrge then hit Rogers a few meters off the ruck – where Rogers really shines – and the prop fought her way over for the score, 7-5.

England got into penalty trouble as the first quarter ended, but play remained deep in the USA’s end. Inside the Eagles’ 22, England scrumhalf Claudia MacDonald stepped off the base of the ruck, caught Kate Zackary anticipating the pass, and then cut through the channel for the centered try, 14-5.

The Eagles weren’t without their offensive flourishes. Haungatau, Kelter and Bulou Mataitoga were particularly explosive, but again, as the phases elapsed, connections failed. Scarratt had sorted out some of the attack pattern and at the 30-minute mark intercepted a pass intended for Haungatau out the back. The center scored beneath the posts unchallenged, 21-5.

The USA defense stood up nicely against two separate pick-and-go campaigns at the line, and Bui Baravilala did well to snag a grub-through away from Scarratt. In the second half, Baravilala prevented a dot-down as well. But eventually England took a five-meter lineout mauling into the try zone and hooker Heather Kerr dotted down a fourth try, 26-5, to end the half.

It looked like England was going to start the second half with another try, as a deep restart saw the Eagles defending inside its 10. But a lovely set-up from Mataitoga saw Kelter break away for one of the biggest runs of the day. Although missed passes halted that drive, play eventually saw a five-meter lineout build toward England’s try line. Cleall was yellow-carded for bringing down the maul, but the subsequent lineout saw the throw-in go over and into England’s hands.

The opportunity eventually ended in a not-releasing penalty. A break from Sarah Bern, a pair of penalties, and England was back to mauling its lineout over the line. Ever so patiently, Kerr waited for the right moment to dot down, 31-5 at 46 minutes.

England got its final try at minute 54, when its scrum forced Byrge into panic, and the scrumhalf attempted to kick-pass to replacement flyhalf Katana Howard. Natasha Hunt was on top of the shanked kick and returned it beneath the posts, 38-5.

That series had the potential to sew real frustration but the introduction of Howard, Alycia Washington, Kristen Thomas, Charli Jacoby, among others, made a nice impact when it was needed. Davenport grad Olivia Ortiz also came on at scrumhalf for her first 15s cap. England attempted to take her on but Ortiz did not lose the contact battle and helped save points at the try line.

Rogers, Kelter, Nick James – they all stole ball in contact, but the subsequent attacks would end in a ball loss forward in the tackle, or ball carrier into touch, or knock-on in the pick-up. Some of these errors were the result of England’s solid defense, too, and it put the pressure on the USA to make good on its possession.

The final 25 minutes of the match evolved without a score – 38-5 to England. There’s plenty of room for an improved performance in round two, against New Zealand.

Our vote for MVP: Kelter, for her consistency and taking well weighted risks.

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