Rugby World Cup columnist @katymc10
How Red Roses dealt with atrocious conditions to overcome Australia and reach World Cup semi-finals plus Marlie Packer’s charge for glory driven by desire to bring home gold medal for son back home
Last Updated: 30/10/22 10:22pm
It was the variation in England’s play during their World Cup quarter-final win over Australia which stood out in what were atrocious conditions in Auckland.
There have been critics of their approach and overreliance on a single strategy throughout the tournament – myself included – and so I was really pleased to see more variety from their driving line-out against the Wallaroos. Sarah Hunter scored the opening try which was fitting on her big occasion and delivered a masterclass on control and composure at the base of the scrum.
Just to illustrate the challenge of the weather, there was almost constant rain and consequently a huge amount of surface water on the pitch, when I caught up with Emily Scarratt post-match she shared that she had to ‘wring out’ her socks at half-time!
Playing when you are that soaked and the ball is constantly wet is a massive challenge, you feel so much heavier moving around the pitch and it puts a lot of pressure on handling skills. That amount of rain can also act as a real ‘leveller’ of teams and you could have understood it if England merely stuck to that Plan A to keep the ball really tight. Instead, I was really impressed with the way they went about their 41-5 victory to set up a semi-final contest with Canada.
What’s driving Marlie Packer to succeed?
Marlie Packer, Hunter and Alex Matthews were absolutely phenomenal against Australia. England’s opponents would have found that as soon as they stopped one of them, there was another and then another to face.
For Marlie, there’s only one gear and that’s top gear. Even after 77 minutes of the match she was still shouting and driving everyone on. England’s job was done by then and she’d already contributed three of the seven tries from the pack but she really is relentless at her best and I’m sure Australia will have felt the full force of that on Sunday.
Motherhood has changed Marlie, as of course it did for me and for many people I’m sure. As the only mum in the current England squad, it’s really important to her that she makes Oliver, who turned two last month, proud and a lot of her motivation will be about bringing that medal home for him.
We know that kids can change your perspective on what is most important and I definitely felt that change in how I viewed rugby when I had my first child. The game that had been my whole life simply wasn’t my sole or most important focus anymore, and I know that’s the same for Marlie.
Not having her son with her in New Zealand will be tough, at eight weeks the tournament is a long time to be away from the family, let alone small children who grow and change every day. I know she’s got a pillowcase with a picture of herself and Oliver on and has been writing a diary for him to read when he is older.
We might now be into the business end of the competition but it’s still important for the girls and the group to spend time with any family who are in New Zealand and enjoy the victories. England had a light celebration after the match with friends and family, but that was mainly to mark Hunter’s 138th appearance.
Tatyana Heard seizing her moment
Zoe Harrison was very good against Australia, her tactical kicking (particularly her short game) showed her growing maturity at 10. Tatyana Heard, meanwhile, was hugely impressive in the way she seized her opportunity, but it didn’t surprise me at all.
Having played alongside her, I know what she’s capable of, she carries very well, is good defensively and was phenomenal when given that starting opportunity against South Africa.
It will be interesting to see whether Simon Middleton opts to include her in his starting team against Canada in the semi-final, but much of that decision will rest on the game plan he adopts – Tatyana couldn’t have done more to stake her claim on that 12 shirt.
Middleton could elect to return Helen Rowland to 12 which would allow England to distribute and fully utilise the likes of Lydia Thompson and Abby Dow. Alternatively, England could partner Emily Scarratt with Tatyana Heard which offers a more physical and direct combination.
The prospect of facing Canada
I don’t believe the Red Roses won’t be fretting too much about facing Canada. They didn’t show anything from their win over USA in the quarter-final that we didn’t know about them already. What do we know then? We know their pack has been very dominant. We know Sophie de Goede has been one of the standout players of the Canada side – if not the tournament – we know she can kick goals.
England should be pretty comfortable and confident going into it, but it’s a semi-final and anything can happen. I also know the Red Roses well enough to know that they will still prepare incredibly professionally and leave no stone unturned. After the necessary rest days they’ll prepare thoroughly to understand how they can exploit Canada and hopefully gain that all-important next win to keep them on track for World Cup glory.