Farewell driving maul, hello creativity – England now have multi-faceted attack

England's centre Megan Jones is tackled as she passes the ball during the Six Nations international women's rugby union match between England and Wales at Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol, south-west England on March 30, 2024
England offered more fluidity in open play than we have become accustomed to - Getty Images/Adrian Dennis

England 46 Wales 10

This was a contest that quickly descended into its usual one-sided affair, as England powered their way to an eight-try victory over a stuttering Wales side that is yet to reap the fruits of professionalism.

With France’s shaky win over Scotland earlier in the day, the Red Roses can sleep easy. Having zipped up another bonus-point win in their usual domineering fashion, this is their Women’s Six Nations to lose.

There was much to like about England’s performance, which was improved from their outing against Italy last week. They were calmer and there was a laser focus to their attack as they carved Wales open with an intricate offloading game that was beautifully shaped by Holly Aitchison.

Their big ball-carriers – namely Hannah Botterman and Rosie Galligan – repeatedly trampled over their opposite numbers, while Meg Jones and Tatyana Heard’s midfield partnership has the potential to be world class. Neither made their way onto the scoresheet in front of the 19,705 crowd at Ashton Gate – a record for England women away from Twickenham – but their broken-field rugby was at times a sight to behold.

What was most pleasing about this latest Red Roses rout was the manner in which they assaulted Wales’ try-line. Eighteen months ago this was a side that was rubbished for being boring and bereft of ideas in attack. Their driving maul was a stunning masterpiece inasmuch as it was an overused weapon. How times have changed.

The John Mitchell era has heralded a new-look England side that has conscientiously added breadth and depth to their attack. As Marlie Packer put it: “We want to let off the handbrake.” The Red Roses barely needed to turn to the maul as they ran riot in Bristol, where all of their tight five forwards crossed the whitewash. When Lark Atkin-Davies crashed over from the back of the Red Roses’ moving missile for England’s fourth try shortly before the break, it was merely a formality.

Farewell the maul, hello creativity. England’s forwards were notably targeting the edges, with Sadia Kabeya particularly sublime. In a glimpse of the future, the 22-year-old blindside flanker was made captain when Packer departed the field late on.

England never looked like they got out of second gear. Their high-tempo game, which simply exhausted Wales, suffered an impromptu blip when scrum-half Natasha Hunt was penalised for not using the ball quickly enough. It was all but a blemish on this Red Roses’ performance, with Mitchell warning there is more to come.

“We didn’t think we had taken Wales’ legs out,” said the Red Roses head coach. “We felt they [England players] were a bit inaccurate and we could have been quicker to our breakdown. We are playing good rugby and it’s nice to see the girls score in different varieties.

“The variety in the way we’re scoring is positive. There’s still more growth but we’re building nicely. We just want to be a lot quicker, to build pressure on teams, and to do that in a number of ways. I think we’re pretty difficult to work out in terms of the way we play.”

Take this moment midway through the first half: as Wales were burrowing their way towards the whitewash, Botterman poached the ball under her own posts and within minutes was under the uprights at the other end, as England recycled quickly and blitzed down the field in one of the finest pieces of attacking rugby you will witness this championship.

It was an episode which showcased the Red Roses at their most lethal, but also confirmed Jones’ excellence in a new-look midfield alongside Heard. Everything the Cardiff-born centre touched turned to gold. With news that Helena Rowland – absent from Mitchell’s heavily rotated starting side for this contest – has been ruled out of the championship with a fractured finger, Jones is likely to be a permanent feature throughout the rest of the tournament. “I want to get us front-foot ball as much as possible,” said the centre. “We spoke about being direct and dangerous, that is what we set out to do and I think we’ve done that, in the first half in particular.”

Heard, an industrious strike runner who thrives in the tackle, endured a shaky opening five minutes, but she grew into the afternoon, breaking into Wales’ territory to provide the platform for Abby Dow to glide over in the corner for the hosts’ sixth. Ellie Kildunne saved the best until last, contorting her body over the try-line to dot down for her second as England crept towards a half-century scoreline after Aitchison had zipped her a flat pass.

For Wales, the questions will grow louder. This was an improvement on the 59-3 hammering from last year at Cardiff Arms Park, and they will be encouraged by their effort to keep England from trickling over the 50-point territory. You cannot fault this side’s ambition, intent or their level of commitment. But the sobering reality is this is a side in its third year of professionalism and the benefits are not yet obvious on the pitch.

For all their patient phase play and tentative spells of possession, they were repeatedly snuffed out by their English foes and fell short in the pressure moments. Keira Bevan restored some pride for the visitors when she meandered her way over the whitewash for a consolation second-half score, but the Red Roses kept turning the screw. “We’ve got to be more clinical, to show more composure and calmness, to trust our processes,” conceded Ioan Cunningham, the Wales head coach. “We probably pulled the trigger a bit too soon and that’s something to look at.”

Match details

Scores: 0-3 George pen, 5-3 Muir try, 10-3 Aldcroft try, 12-3 Aitchison con, 17-3 Botterman try, 19-3 Aitchison con, 24-3 Atkin-Davies try, 29-3 Kildunne try, 34-3 Dow try, 34-8 Bevan try, 34-10 George con, 39-10 Galligan try, 41-10 Aitchison con, 46-10 Kildunne try.

England: E Kildunne; A Dow, M Jones, T Heard (Z Harrison 65), J Breach (S Gregson 63); H Aitchison, N Hunt (L Packer 69); H Botterman (M Carson 63), L Atkin-Davies (C Powell 40), M Muir (K Clifford 51), Z Aldcroft (A Ward 60), R Galligan, S Kabeya, M Packer (M Feaunati 60), A Matthews.

Wales: J Hesketh; L Neumann, H Jones, K Lake (C Keight 65), C Cox; L George (K Powell 71),  S Jones (K Bevan 48); G Pyrs (A Constable 60), C Phillips (M Reardon 73), D Rose (S Tuipulotu 40), A Fleming, G Evans, K Williams (N John 51), A Callender, B Lewis (A Joyce-Butchers 40).

Referee K Roche

Attendance: 19,705

England prove too much for Wales to handle: As it happened

06:59 PM GMT

Stat attack

06:58 PM GMT

England head coach John Mitchell speaking to BBC

“It was a good performance and we worked our way into each half. The variety of the scoring was positive and there is still a lot more growth to come.

“I think we can be more urgent and continue to improve our skillset under pressure. What I liked today is we had pressure for long periods of time and executed very well.

“We want to be quicker and build pressure on teams, we can do that in a number of ways.

“We continue creating competition in the group which is lucky from my point of view and it makes my life difficult for selection.”

06:57 PM GMT

Wales coach Ioan Cunningham speaking to BBC

“The effort was unbelievable, we had four entries in their 22 in the first half and came away with no points. We showed our fight, it was outstanding. We have to be more clinical and show more composure. You can have 100 phases but it’s about crossing the line.

“Fair play to England they score quickly and the scoreboard can get away from you. To go to the next level we have to take opportunities. It was a huge crowd, it was awesome and that’s the stage we want to play on.”

06:53 PM GMT

England defence coach and former captain Sarah Hunter speaking to BBC

“Wales did have opportunities. Whether they were [players] defending at a set-piece or defending our try line it was outstanding.

“As a defence coach that is what makes you proud how they turn up and defend.”

On Wales: 

“Wales are a very good side, they have developed and grown their game. You look and the majority of their players play in the PWR [Premiership Women’s Rugby].

“We always knew they were going to come at us and we wouldn’t be able to switch off. The quick tap from Keira Bevan caught us off guard.

“We spoke about the danger of Keira from the bench, it was a needless penalty and then Bevan tapped and went. They were not having joy through their set-piece so why not?”

06:48 PM GMT

England centre Meg Jones speaking to BBC

“I loved it, there was massive passion on the pitch and the atmoshpere was outstanding. I love unstructured play, that’s where I thrive.

“We spoke about being direct and dangerous and that’s what we did. We have a new setup, I love it.”

06:47 PM GMT

The thoughts of England captain Marlie Packer

“It was absolutely incredible, this crowd is just unreal. All the girls are absolutely loving it.

“There are a few things to fix them up, but we will fix them up in the week and come out strong against Scotland.

“Our soft errors, our handling errors. We talk about that we want to let off the handbrake, so those errors are going to come in, but it is just about how we react to them.

“We have so much intent in what we are trying to do.”

06:39 PM GMT

Maggie Alphonsi on BBC

What I saw which was positive was the offloading.

England kept the ball alive and everyone touched the ball it was all about keeping the tempo high.

06:39 PM GMT

Former England captain Katey Daley-McLean on BBC

I think England were a lot better today, they looked more comfortable and some of the tries they scored were straight from the training park.

06:31 PM GMT

Full time

That is it at Ashton Gate and England win 46-10 to make it back-to-back bonus-point wins.

06:30 PM GMT

79 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

Wales knock on near the England line as we have just seconds remaining.

06:29 PM GMT

79 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

Into the final minute and Wales have a penalty in front of the posts inside the England 22. They will take the tap.

06:27 PM GMT

78 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

Wales just about win the line-out but they are penalised for holding on.

06:26 PM GMT

77 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

Wales win a penalty on the England 22 in mid-field. Once again the visitors will kick to touch.

06:25 PM GMT

76 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

Wales win the line-out and they set the maul going. They get over the England line but it is held up so it is a goal-line drop-out.

06:24 PM GMT

75 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

Wales are awarded a penalty for a high tackle inside the England half so they will kick to the corner...

06:21 PM GMT

72 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

England are so close to the Wales line once again but on this occasion Wales win the penalty at the breakdown and can clear their lines.

06:11 PM GMT

64 minutes: England 46 Wales 10

England win the scrum penalty on halfway.

06:09 PM GMT

Try England

England have another try and it is a great finish right in the corner by Kildunne. In the same corner she scored in earlier in this half she manages to dot down just before she goes into touch despite the best efforts of the Wales defenders. The conversion is missed. England lead 46-10.

06:06 PM GMT

60 minutes: England 41 Wales 10

Changes aplenty now as Ward and Feaunati come on for England in the pack.

06:04 PM GMT

Try England

Galligan powers over from close range for England’s seventh try of the game. It did look like England had knocked on a few phases before but nothing given. The referee must have decided it was stripped at the ruck by Wales. England steal it back from Wales and Galligan went over. Aitchison lands the conversion and England lead 41-10.

06:02 PM GMT

57 minutes: England 34 Wales 10

England get within a few metres of the Wales line but Wales steal it. However moments later Wales knock it on and England will have a scrum five metres out.

06:00 PM GMT

Try Wales

Wales have their first of the afternoon. They are awarded a penalty in front of the posts and Wales substitute scrum-half Bevan takes it quickly. She snipes through and over under the posts. George lands the easy conversion.

05:55 PM GMT

50 minutes: England 34 Wales 3

Wales eventually knock after winning the line-out.

05:54 PM GMT

49 minutes: England 34 Wales 3

England are penalised for not rolling away so Wales will kick to the corner.

05:53 PM GMT

48 minutes: England 34 Wales 3

Wales have made a change at scrum-half as Bevan has replaced S Jones.

05:52 PM GMT

Try England

England are all over Wales and they have yet another try. It is Dow who goes over in the opposite corner to Kildunne. It all stemmed from a great break and run from Heard. Aitchison’s conversion misses so England lead 34-3.

05:49 PM GMT

Try England

England are over this time in the corner. They shift it wide to the left and after missing out moments before, Kildunne dots the ball down in the corner. Aitchison hits the crossbar but it comes back out. That was unlucky for England’s fly-half and they lead 29-3.

05:48 PM GMT

42 minutes: England 24 Wales 3

After Aldcroft made the initial break into the Wales 22, England are just metres away. Kildunne looks like she is going to go over in the corner but she cannot get over. England are awarded a penalty and they go quickly...

05:45 PM GMT

Second half

We are back under way at Ashton Gate.

England have brought on Powell at hooker. Wales have brought on Tuipulotu for Rose at tighthead prop.

05:39 PM GMT

HT verdict

Well, it’s what we’ve been expecting. You cannot fault Wales’ ambition, but they’ve fallen short in the pressure moments. They should have at least one try to show for their first-half efforts, but England shut them out when it mattered and countered brilliantly. For context, the Red Roses were leading 19-3 in this fixture at Cardiff Arms Park last year. They’ve bettered that margin by five points. Wales reaping the rewards of professionalism? Unconvinced. England, by contrast, have turned up. Botterman is having a blinder, while Aitchison has given the hosts so much go-forward by mixing up England’s attack. And that’s before you mention the broken-field running by Meg Jones. This could get ugly.

05:30 PM GMT

Try England and HT

England have a penalty advantage but they do not need it as hooker Atkin-Davies goes over at the back of the maul. Aitchison’s conversion is unsuccessful. That is half time and England lead 24-3.

05:28 PM GMT

40 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

The clock is into the red but England win a scrum penalty against the head deep into Wales’ 22. They go to the corner...

05:24 PM GMT

37 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

So close to a great try from England. Aitchison finds Dow with a crossfield kick but Dow cannot get the ball down before she goes out of play. So close to the bonus-point try for England. In the build-up to that there was a superb offload from Heard.

05:22 PM GMT

36 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

Wales are penalised for a tackle off the ball and England have the penalty just inside Wales’ half. They kick to the Wales 22.

05:20 PM GMT

34 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

The chance is gone as Aitchison picks off a pass from Wales scrum-half Jones and England can clear.

05:19 PM GMT

33 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

Wales have a penalty and they kick into the England 22. They need to take advantage of these chances if they want to compete.

They win the line-out and inch closer to the England line...

05:18 PM GMT

32 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

05:17 PM GMT

31 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

The chance is gone for the away side as the pass off the base of the scrum is thrown forward.

05:16 PM GMT

30 minutes: England 19 Wales 3

Wales will have the scrum inside the England 22 as England scrum-half Hunt is punished for not using the ball quickly enough. The scrum is around 10 metres out from England’s line.

Expect Mo Hunt to be on her guard after being told to hurry up by referee Kat Roche at the breakdown. Not something you see too much of but the right, if slightly refreshing call.

05:11 PM GMT

Try England

England have their third try of the afternoon and they have gone the length to score it. They are just a couple of metres out and Botterman is too powerful for the Welsh defence. Aitchison’s lands the simple conversion. England lead 19-3.

Looking at the replays before England broke down the field it looks like they should have penalised for playing the arm of the scrum-half.

Wales sniffing England’s tryline but somehow Hannah Botterman crashes over for England’s third at the other end. You’ll be hard pushed to find a better example of counter-attacking rugby than that. Cardiff-born Meg Jones is the best Wales player on the pitch at the moment...

05:09 PM GMT

23 minutes: England 12 Wales 3

England steal it again and they break through Meg Jones. She kicks through and England have it deep into the Wales 22....

05:08 PM GMT

22 minutes: England 12 Wales 3

Wales are just a few metres from England’s line but they are told to use it. Botterman steals the ball at the breakdown and England have it. Wales need to be taking their chances there. But Wales now have it back inside England’s 22...

05:07 PM GMT

21 minutes: England 12 Wales 3

Wales win the line-out and set the maul. They move closer to the England line and Atkin is penalised for bringing the maul down. Wales go for the corner again.

05:05 PM GMT

20 minutes: England 12 Wales 3

Despite losing their own line-out Wales win a penalty as England are penalised for holding on. Wales kick into the England 22.

05:01 PM GMT

Try England

England have their second try of the match. They win the line-out and go through a few phases. They work it to the left and it is Aldcroft who powers over. Aitchison lands the conversion and England lead 12-3.

04:59 PM GMT

14 minutes: England 5 Wales 3

Aitchison puts a grubber through but Breach cannot quite get on the end of it before it reaches the dead-ball line. Play has gone back for a penalty to England, which they kick to the corner.

Wales will be buoyed by their opening six-minute spell, but the difference between these two sides is already telling. England just look so more zippy going forward - as exhibited in the build up to Muir’s try - while Wales are trying to punch their way through the gainline without having much to show for it so far.

04:53 PM GMT

Try England

Dow makes a great break down the right wing and comes inches away from getting over for the try, but she is brought down just shy. From the next phase though Muir forces her way over for the first try of the game. Aitchison’s conversion comes back off the post. England lead 5-3.

04:51 PM GMT

Penalty Wales

George lands the penalty from right in front of the posts and Wales take an early lead. They lead 3-0.

04:51 PM GMT

5 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Wales get a great push on at the scrum and they are awarded the penalty after a length advantage comes to nothing.

04:49 PM GMT

3 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

The chance is wasted and England take possession. But Heard knocks on inside her own 22 so Wales will have a scrum 10 metres out from the England line in front of the posts.

04:48 PM GMT

2 minutes: England 0 Wales 0

Wales go through a number of phases inside the England half but are pushed back towards halfway. But they are awarded a penalty as England do not roll away so Wales kick for the corner, just inside the England 22.

04:45 PM GMT

Kick off

We are under way at Ashton Gate.

04:39 PM GMT

Kick off fast approaching

Both sides have emerged from the tunnel and it is time for the national anthems.

04:39 PM GMT

Reminder of the team news

England: Kildunne; Dow, Jones, Heard, Breach; Aitchison, Hunt; Botterman, Atkin-Davies, Muir, Aldcroft, Galligan, Kabeya, Packer (capt), Matthews.

Replacements: Powell, Carson, Clifford, Ward, Feaunati, Packer, Harrison, Gregson.

Wales: Hesketh; Neumann, Jones, Lake, Cox; George, Jones; Pyrs, Phillips, Rose, Fleming, Evans, Williams, Callender, Lewis.

Replacements: Reardon, Constable, Tuipulotu, John, Butchers, Bevan, Powell, Keight.

04:37 PM GMT

England’s Meg Jones starts against country of birth

04:34 PM GMT

Live from Ashton Gate

I’m hearing almost 19,000 tickets have been snapped up for today’s match, which means we’re expecting a record home crowd for a Red Roses Six Nations fixture away from Twickenham. The conditions are perfect at Ashton Gate, where the Red Roses have just headed down the tunnel after finishing their warm-up.

England head coach John Mitchell will be looking for a more complete 80-minute performance from his side following their lacklustre first half against Italy in Parma last week. There’s been some late injury drama for Wales, who were already without their flying fullback Jaz Joyce after she withdrew from hamstring injury yesterday. Nel Metcalfe, who has been in superb form for Gloucester-Hartpury this season, has also been ruled out with a minor pectoral muscle injury.

04:31 PM GMT

England head coach John Mitchell speaking to the BBC

“We want to continue building on our performances, we got a good start last week and we got tested too.

“Today will be a different story, every team in the second round will be better prepared.”

On changes: 

“We have got a lot of competition in the squad. I want them chasing each other and obviously 100 days ago this combination played against Wales [in the WXV].

“They [players] have belief and that is why I went for them.”

On who will be kicking:

“A number of them will kick. I am not sure who will go first, it is between them and they are all very capable.”

04:21 PM GMT

Inside the home dressing room

04:16 PM GMT

Full time in Scotland

It has just finished in Edinburgh where France have beaten Scotland 15-5 to make it two wins from two. England will have the chance to go top with a victory at Ashton Gate.

04:10 PM GMT

Matthews interview: Rugby distraction from Dad’s cancer diagnosis

Alex Matthews starts at number eight for England this afternoon. Our very own Fiona Tomas caught up with her this week and they spoke about how rugby is acting as a distraction from Matthew’s father’s cancer diagnosis.

England number eight Alex Matthews in action
England number eight Alex Matthews has spoken about rugby acting as a distraction from her father's diagnosis - Mike Egerton/PA

04:02 PM GMT

Fiona Tomas live from Ashton Gate

03:54 PM GMT

Team news

England head coach John Mitchell has made seven changes. There is a new centre pairing as Megan Jones and Tatyana Heard come into the starting XV. It is all change as well in the half-back positions with Natasha Hunt and Holly Aitchison starting. Maud Muir, Rosie Galligan and Alex Matthews also come into the team.

Sarah Beckett is unavailable after her red card last weekend, which has resulted in a three-game ban.

England: Kildunne; Dow, Jones, Heard, Breach; Aitchison, Hunt; Botterman, Atkin-Davies, Muir, Aldcroft, Galligan, Kabeya, Packer (capt), Matthews.

Replacements: Powell, Carson, Clifford, Ward, Feaunati, Packer, Harrison, Gregson.

Wales have made seven changes to their starting XV. Winger Jasmine Joyce has been ruled out with an hamstring strain so Lisa Neumann comes into the team in her place. Scrum-half Sian Jones and winger Carys Cox are amongst the other changes to the starting team.

Wales: Hesketh; Neumann, Jones, Lake, Cox; George, Jones; Pyrs, Phillips, Rose, Fleming, Evans, Williams, Callender, Lewis.

Replacements: Reardon, Constable, Tuipulotu, John, Butchers, Bevan, Powell, Keight.

03:47 PM GMT

Red Roses arrive

03:37 PM GMT

Match preview

It is round two in the Women’s Six Nations and we are heading to Ashton Gate in Bristol where defending champions England take on Wales. England are looking to win a third successive Grand Slam and a sixth Six Nations title in succession.

England kicked off their campaign last weekend with a resounding 48-0 victory over Italy, despite playing the majority of the game down to 14 after Sarah Beckett’s red card. Beckett was sent off for a dangerous clear-out in the 11th minute but England ran in eight tries in a bonus-point victory in their quest for a third Grand Slam in succession. Despite the disappointment, England head coach John Mitchell has backed Beckett to bounce back.

“It’s disappointing for Sarah [Beckett]. You get around and support your team-mates,” Mitchell said.

“She’ll get over it, she’s a strong person and now will have to present herself with good conditioning and be available for the France selection.

“She’s remaining in camp. We have plans in place for her to be available for France selection.”

Beckett will miss the next three games including this afternoon’s match, Scotland and Ireland. She will become available again for the final match against France, which looks like it could be the title decider. Today’s game will be John Mitchell’s first home game in charge of the Red Roses.

Wales’ opening game of the tournament ended in a narrow 18-20 defeat to Scotland. They are now without a win in four games and their head coach Ioan Cunningham is aware of the challenge facing his side this afternoon.

“England are out and out the best team on the planet,” said Cunningham. “If we get back to that level of intensity for longer then we feel we can really trouble England.”

Last year England secured an utterly dominant 59-3 win in Cardiff.

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