England A Women 22 Spain 22
England A Women today (Wednesday) booked their place in the final of the European Championships on Saturday, but only after a nail-biting 22-22 draw against host nations Spain in Madrid.
The draw, plus a win against Russia and a crucial bonus point victory against Italy A on Monday hands England their place in the final where they will face old rivals France A, kick-off 4pm BST. England A last played their French counterparts in March and won 21-7 at home.
The development side were tested from the very first whistle and were given an early scare by the Spanish first XV when they nearly crossed after just three minutes. Fortunately a try-saving tackle from Saracens fullback Claire Allan prevented the score.
England A bounced back straight away though and after seven minutes Wasps’ Michaela Staniford put the tourists 5-0 ahead after she danced round the Spanish defence.
With Spain going a player down 14 minutes in after a high tackle on wing Amber Penrith, England again made the most of their opportunities and this time Clifton’s Kim Oliver crossed.
A great 40 metre break from Michaela Staniford who again out-ran Spain’s defence set-up the centre, who saw a gap, to score under the posts. Captain and Wasps fly-half Shelley Rae converted to put England 12-0 up.
Spain, however, soon clawed their way back into the reckoning with a well worked line-out, catch and drive move in England’s 22 which saw their scrum-half pop up to score on the blindside. Minutes later the host side executed an identical move after a Spanish penalty leaving them suddenly just two points adrift at the break.
England came out of half-time firing on all cylinders knowing that a place in the final was at stake. Richmond wing Fiona Pocock answered England’s call with a try just two minutes in. Some good work from Saracens flanker Sonia Green at the kick-off saw England earn a scrum just 10 metres out from Spain’s try line. England took control of the move and when Plymouth’s Georgina Rozario recycled the ball out to Rae, the fly-half set-up Pocock for the score.
Spain, however, never gave up and kept the deficit to just two points with another line-out, catch and drive move which saw their scrum-half claim her hat-trick of tries on 58 minutes leaving England with some work still to do at 17-15.
With forward Jane Leonard of Wasps and the Army touching down on 67 minutes England went some way to achieving their goal until Spain hit back again with just six minutes on the clock.
Their converted try, this time from their number seven who muscled her way over the try-line from a line-out, saw Spain crucially pull level on 22 points. Despite some staunch defending by England Spain were not able to push their rivals any further leaving England to take the place in the final.
England Head Coach Amanda Bennett said: “Spain were a really tough and physical side today. We were expecting them to be well prepared and eager to prove a point against us after their Six Nations relegation and they did just that. They certainly gave us a good and exciting game. Fortunately for us our bonus point victory against Italy on Monday puts us in the final.
“We scored some good tries which is pleasing whilst Spain really tested our forwards; we have got some tired and bruised players today. France A will be a similar side to Spain up front so it’s good to have a game like this before the final.
“I’m delighted we’re in the final. Our aim before the championship was to come here and win the title and now we are just one step away that. If we win then it will be a phenomenal achievement for English women’s rugby.”
1 Sophie Hemming (VC) (Clifton), 2 Emma Layland (Richmond), 3 Katie Smith (Richmond), 4 Sarah Beale (Leo’s), 5 Emma Dresser (Lichfield), 6 Sonia Green (Saracens), 7 Jane Leonard (Wasps & Army), 8 Leah Carey (Lichfield), 9 Georgina Rozario (Plymouth Albion), 10 Shelley Rae (C) Wasps,
11 Fiona Pocock (Richmond), 12 Kim Oliver (Clifton), 13 Michaela Staniford (Wasps), 14 Amber Penrith (Cardiff Quins), 15 Claire Allan (Saracens). Replacements: 16 Samantha Dale (Worcester), 17 Rosemarie Crowley (Lichfield), 18 Natalie Binstead (Wasps), 19 Sarah Hunter (Lichfield), 20 Harriet Slynn (Richmond), 21 Katy McLean (Thirsk Sharks), 22 Katherine Merchant (Worcester).
Tries: Staniford, Oliver, Pocock, Leonard
Substitutions: Slynn for Rozario (44), Dale for Layland (50), Crowley for Smith (50), Hunter for Carey (50), Binstead for Dresser (55), McLean for Rae (55), Merchant for Pocock (55).
England A European Championship fixtures:
Saturday April 28th England A v Russia kick-off 3pm BST, WON 62-0
Monday April 30th England A v Italy, kick-off 2pm BST, WON 41-11
Wednesday May 2nd, England A v Spain, kick-off 11am BST, DRAW 22-22
Saturday May 5th, Finals day TBC
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photo Cheltenham Racecourse