England A Women were crowned European Trophy champions on Saturday, seeing off hosts Spain in a tight 5-3 victory in the final.
Spain proved to be England’s toughest opponents of the tournament and also the only side to put any points on them with England not conceding a single point against Italy A, the Netherlands and Russia on route to the final.
It was a pulsating match, from start to finish, with England only taking the lead in last minute of the game. Lichfield No.8 Sarah Hunter sealed the victory and the title for England with the 70th minute try.
England A Head Coach Mike Barnett said: “We are absolutely delighted to have won the European Trophy. It was a tense, heart stopping game, and we were on the edge of our seats for most of the match, but in the end we pulled through and sealed the victory.
“The whole point of this campaign for us was to give the players a tough experience and we certainly got that. Our experienced girls played really well and they helped bring on our younger players and that experience is going to be invaluable to them. Certainly a lot of our players have put their hands up for selection higher up the England ladder.
“Spain were a similar side in terms of players to the team we defeated over a month ago, but they were a very different team on the pitch today. They defended tremendously, they were clinical at the breakdown and certainly had the belief they could win.
“To therefore come through this match and to win it in the dying minutes shows great mental strength from our squad. This sort of experience for them is invaluable.”
Throughout the game England dominated in terms of possession but hosts Spain, clearly buoyed by their home crowd, were clinical in everything they did. They tackled England excellently and prevented the visitors from finishing off any chances they had, leaving both sides without a score in the first-half.
After the break England had their first chance of putting points on the board with a 45th minute penalty but Worcester centre Ceri Large couldn’t make the kick. She hit the bar, and then Wasps flanker Jane Leonard went close picking up and driving forward but she spilled the ball to end England’s charge.
Spain then had their chance to take the lead for the first time. Centre Marina Bravo kicked the penalty and the home side took the lead much to the delight of the home crowd in the 52nd minute.
Richmond wing Fran Matthews came close to scoring with a nice break but she was brought down just short of the try-line, while England’s forwards also came close on a couple of occasions with some threatening line-outs, catch and drives. On every occasion though Spain’s defence was immense and England couldn’t break through their wall of defence.
In the final ten minutes of the game England really ramped up the pressure, refusing to let Spain take the spoils. The visitors again came close on a handful of occasions but were kept out until some good kicking put England in a threatening position. A scrum in the corner gave England the opportunity to drive forward and controlling it well England pushed over with Hunter making the final decisive move.
Large had a second go at the posts but couldn’t make the conversion, but with scrum half Georgina Rozario kicking the ball out of play immediately after the restart England stole the victory and the title in front of Spain’s home crowd.
15 Natasha Hunt (Lichfield), 14 Michaela Staniford (Wasps), 13 Georgina Roberts (Darlington Mowden Park), 12 Ceri Large (Worcester), 11 Fran Matthews (Richmond), 10 Kim Oliver (Bristol), 9 Georgina Rozario (Lichfield), 1 Claire Purdy(Wasps), 2 Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield), 3 Rosemary Crowley (Lichfield) Captain, 4 Tamara Taylor(Darlington Mowden Park), 5 Rowena Burnfield (Richmond), 6 MarliePacker (Bristol), 7 Jane Leonard (Wasps), 8 SarahHunter (Lichfield). Replacements: 16 Ollie Poore(Wasps), 17 Monica Lewinska (Bristol), 18 NicolaHoole (Bristol), 19 Isabelle Noel Smith(Bristol), 20 Sarah McKenna (Old Albanians), 21 Amber Reed (Bristol), 22 Kay Wilson (Richmond), 23 Charlotte Male (Bristol), 24 Natasha Jones(Lichfield), 25 Stacey Maguire (Lichfield), 26 Sophie Nicholas (Lichfield)
Substitutions: Poore for Fleetwood (45), Noel Smith for Packer (59)
Fixtures & Results
Saturday April 30th – Italy v England, KO 3pm BST, WON 5-0
Monday May 2nd – Netherlands v England, WON 36-0
Wednesday May 4th – Russia v England, WON 39-0
Saturday May 7th – Finals Day, England v Spain, WON 5-3