Simon Middleton hailed his England side as the best he’d ever coached, as the Red Roses secured the 2022 TikTok Women’s Six Nations Championship and the Grand Slam with a 24-12 victory over France in Bayonne.
Two tries from Sarah Bern and another from Abbie Ward put England in control at the break, with Emily Scarratt adding a penalty after the interval to secure a famous win.
Romane Menager’s early try looked to have knocked England off their stride, but the visitors roared back to complete a first-half comeback, something Middleton never felt was up for debate.
“They’re a great side and the start that they got, it always could have had the potential to go one way or the other at the start of the game,” said Middleton.
“This is one of the things we wanted to find out today, how resilient is this side, what is it built on, can it stand up to the utmost pressure?
“I never thought we were going to lose the game once it went to seven-all, because we’d answered the question and then we go 21-7.
“We probably didn’t free ourselves up to play as much as we wanted but what they did was show they’re great champions and they know how to win a game. Today was about winning.”
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— TikTok Women’s Six Nations (@Womens6Nations) May 3, 2022
The victory was England’s 23rd in a row and Middleton extolled the virtues of his side both on the pitch and at the training ground after the win.
“This is the best England squad I’ve ever coached, they are unbelievable,” said Middleton.
“We had to win today to prove to ourselves that everything we’ve done has been worth it and says we’re heading in the right direction.
“I can’t tell you how hard these players work, they are absolutely uncompromising.
“I can’t speak highly enough of this group, every time you challenge them they step up.”
“The resilience we showed was incredible. We are an unbelievably physically and mentally resilient side. That is the trait of a great side and that is what we want to be.”
The vocal crowd created a real partisan atmosphere inside the Stade Jean-Dauger, but Middleton felt his senior players stepped up to the plate on the biggest of occasions.
Prop Bern excelled once more on both sides of the ball, while Zoe Aldcroft made 18 tackles.
“The big players definitely came to the party today,” added Middleton.
“Some of the younger, less experienced players sort of showed where they’re at and that’s one of those learnings but they’ll be better for it and stronger for it as we go forward.
“We’ve got this group of senior players who are so proud to play for England and work so hard to keep their shirt, they set the example.
“We’ve got so many players with a massive amount of caps and they’re still setting the standards, and they set the example today, they were the difference.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) May 3, 2022
Despite the win, Middleton felt that there was still plenty for his side to improve on, particularly giving players such as Emily Scarratt more freedom on the ball, and centurion Scarratt concurred that the Red Roses were still to find the perfect combination.
“We’ve just got to get the balance right,” said Scarratt.
“Against a side like France, you go wide too early you get smashed and end up behind the gain line so you’ve got to figure out that balance probably quicker than we were able to.
“You saw Lydia Thompson, when she got her hands on the ball, what she’s able to do so we’ve got to find a way to get those players on the ball more often. In space, not just forcing it to them when it’s not on.
“It’s about picking to pieces the game and hitting them at the right times. But sometimes you’ve just got to go and win a game – so I don’t think anyone is too disappointed about it.”
The win completed another perfect Championship for England, and Scarratt agreed that this side was one of the very best she’d ever played in.
“It’s been bandied about a bit on social media, it’s really hard to say because the game has changed but it’s right up there,” added the centre.
“The quality of some of the players now, it’s not just one, or two, or three players it’s a whole raft.
“When you look at the depth we have in certain positions, I wouldn’t want to do his [Simon Middleton’s] job in terms of making selections.
“From that point of view, yeah probably but that’s not to downgrade the other sides that I’ve been a part of as the game is definitely different now.”
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) April 30, 2022
The Championship is England’s fourth in a row and is the perfect preparation for the World Cup later in the year, though Scarratt is not getting ahead of herself just yet with plenty of rugby still to be played.
“We will definitely celebrate this,” said Scarratt.
“We all go back to clubs when we go back to England so we switch our attention right away from international rugby for a little bit.
“We’ll make sure we review this one but then people will return to club-land, people will get a break and then we’ll come back and be really fresh.
“That’s when the big World Cup stuff starts, but this has all been part of that prep as well.
“It’s all part of the journey. It’s a massive part of it and you don’t want to look too far ahead, this was important all by itself, it leads to that bigger picture.
“It was really important for us, especially this game, away from home, tough crowd, tough opposition, to come away with a win.”