England beat world champions 43-12 at Sandy Park in first of two-Test series


Red Roses secure record win over Black Ferns

The Red Roses kicked off their autumn campaign with a record 43-12 win over the Black Ferns at Sandy Park.

The match between the world’s number one side and the world champions in Exeter was the Black Ferns’ landmark 100th Test, but it was England who were celebrating as they extended their unbeaten run to 15 games and retained top spot in the rankings.

It was the Black Ferns’ heaviest ever defeat – seven tries and 43 points the most they have conceded – and the fact that it has been more than two years since they last played a Test was evident.

New Zealand struggled at the set-piece, particularly at the lineout – England stole three in a row midway through the first half – and the fluidity you would expect from their game was missing. That shouldn’t be too surprising given the new combinations involved; there were four debutants in the starting line-up and another five on the bench.

While England will have been pleased with how their back-line put plenty of width on the ball to stretch New Zealand, the improvement at scrum time from the Six Nations was probably most notable.

They were put under huge pressure by France in that area during the championship yet not only had a solid scrummage against the Black Ferns but also got a decent nudge on a few occasions. The return of Sarah Bern to the front row will have helped while new forwards coach Louis Deacon has clearly been busy.

Red Roses head coach Simon Middleton said: “I thought the team were fantastic and it would be easy to highlight the forwards who have only worked with Louis Deacon for a few weeks, they were great for sure but our very young back-line did some great things and showed the talent they have.”

Abbie Ward got England’s opening two tries – the first after neat interplay out wide with Abby Dow (and a clever flick on from Ellie Kildunne) and the second from close range.

Kildunne weaved between New Zealand defenders to make it 17-0 at the break before Alana Bremner got points on the board for the visitors following a clever kick-pass from Chelsea Alley.

The Red Roses were quick to reassert their dominance, though. Lark Davies touched down from a driving maul, Holly Aitchison marked her Test debut with a try and Abby Dow sprinted clear from halfway after picking up a loose ball.

In the closing minutes, Stacey Fluhler crossed in the corner – the Black Ferns finally showing how dangerous they can be when their passing game clicks into gear – but it was Player of the Match Zoe Harrison who had the final say when she was sent over by a Helena Rowland offload and added the conversion.

The Black Ferns certainly won’t be as rusty when the two teams meet at Franklin’s Gardens next Sunday, but can they improve enough in seven days to overcome this Red Roses team? It’s a big ask but, then again, it’s always dangerous to write off New Zealand!

Related: How to get England tickets this autumn

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