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England’s Six Nations blitz built on sacrificing discipline for dynamism | Sarah Rendell
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England’s Six Nations blitz built on sacrificing discipline for dynamism | Sarah Rendell

England Women’s Six Nations campaign was formidable but it seems even more so when you look at their numbers: 270 points scored via 44 tries across five matches, with only 41 points conceded. The captain, Marlie Packer, said after the championship sealing win over France on Saturday that there are no limits in regards to what the Red Roses can achieve, which must be a daunting prospect for any opposition they face.

Last year, England were criticised for not having a dynamic attack and the team would often rely on their maul to keep the scoreboard ticking over. But this tournament has seen their attack diversify, with tries coming from every area of the pitch. The back three were particularly imposing, and responsible for scoring 18 of England’s 44 tries.

Packer is not the only player who feels the sky is the limit for the Red Roses – it is a team-wide message which provides insight into how all concerned are not resting on their laurels. “I do think we have so much potential and we have so much depth,” said the prop Maud Muir after England’s grand slam win. “There are so many other girls coming through, I’m just really excited to see where we go in the next year or so.”

But how do such a commanding side improve? Well, their tournament was perfect in terms of results, with England coming away with the maximum 25 points available to them to seal a third consecutive grand slam and a sixth straight title. However, their performances, while undeniably impressive, were not the complete product. The main area that the Red Roses need to sharpen is their discipline.

Sarah Beckett, the No 8, received a red card and subsequent three-game ban for her crocodile roll on Michela Sillari in England’s opener against Italy. The hooker Amy Cokayne, meanwhile, was shown a red card after two yellow-card offences against Scotland and had a one-game ban. The team also had two other sin-bins in the tournament.

England celebrate after scoring against France.View image in fullscreen

When asked about the team’s shortage of discipline, England coaches have insisted that they are not worried, that the yellow and red cards are a consequence of their new attacking style and it will be something all concerned work on. But if this issue continues, it could cost England at the upcoming World Cup – keeping 15 players on the pitch will be imperative to ensure winning the sport’s biggest trophy does not elude John Mitchell’s side again.

A shortage of discipline also means conceding penalties. Across the Six Nations, England gave away 50 , with their worst count in a single game being 15 against Wales. England did improve upon their penalty count in the first half against France; they gave away only one during the first 40 minutes of the contest. But they conceded a further nine in the second half and the haemorrhaging of penalties provided the home side with momentum.

Another area where England could improve is efficiency. It may sound strange to ask a team that scored 44 tries across five games to score more, but they did leave a fair few out on the pitch. The game against Ireland was the perfect example of the Red Roses being lethally efficient with 14 tries in front of over 48,000 fans at Twickenham. If they manage to find the key to unlock that level of performance across most of their matches, they truly will be unstoppable.

Many may well raise an eyebrow upon hearing that the Red Roses believe they can improve, but they have proven doubters wrong in the past and have undeniably found another gear this year. Much of that is down to Mitchell, for whom the Six Nations was his first tournament as England head coach. To say he did well would be an understatement.

“I think we are faced with pressure every day when you are in sport,” he said. “I really embrace it, I look forward to walking towards it. That’s just my way, and that’s the girls’ way as well. To be given the opportunity to coach the Red Roses way back, at the end of the day it was a pretty easy decision. They have a winning mentality and they want to get better. I think we’ve set a pretty good benchmark in this competition in terms of sending a message to everyone else in terms of how we want to play the game.”

The message is loud and clear: England have found another gear and are still searching for top speed. They will be hoping to take full flight at next year’s home World Cup.

Source: theguardian.com