England won their fourth consecutive TikTok Women’s Six Nations Championship after completing the Grand Slam with a 24-12 victory over France on Super Saturday.
Simon Middleton’s Red Roses were too strong for all of their opponents, scoring 45 tries and conceding just four during the campaign.
It was England’s 11th Championship title since Italy joined in 2007 and a real testament to the strength of the squad assembled by World Rugby’s Coach of the Year.
Tale of the Championship
Marlie Packer’s hat-trick got England off to a flyer against Scotland as they won 57-5 at the DAM Health Stadium.
Packer crossed for two scores in the first half and despite Chloe Rollie racing over for the hosts, last year’s Player of the Championship Poppy Cleall, Heather Cowell, Abby Dow and Leanne Infante also crossed before the break for the defending champions.
England were ruthless in possession in contrast to their opponents who struggled to convert territory into telling contributions on the scoreboard.
Holly Aitchison and Connie Powell added further scores before Packer barrelled over for her third on a memorable afternoon.
Middleton rang the changes for the trip to Italy in Round 2 but there was no drama in Parma as Lydia Thompson’s hat-trick helped fire her side to a 74-0 victory.
Sarah McKenna opened the scoring after three minutes before Thompson got her first try and then, after the wingers had got things started, the forwards got in on the act as Lark Davies, Shaunagh Brown and Alex Matthews bundled over.
In the second half, Vicky Fleetwood, Emma Sing on debut and Emily Scarratt all scored while McKenna completed her double and Thompson rounded off her hat-trick to cap a dominant display.
Round 3 saw Wales visit Kingsholm in search of a Triple Crown having won their first two games but despite a strong start from the visitors, England eventually pulled away to win 58-5, ending the Dragons’ unbeaten start to the Championship.
Davies continued her good try-scoring form with another double while winger Jess Breach marked her return to the team for the first time since May 2021 in style by also crossing the whitewash twice.
The Red Roses ran in ten tries in total but lost Dow to a broken leg early on before hooker Kelsey Jones went over for a consolation for Wales in the 67th minute.
Having set a new record for the largest home crowd at an England women’s match the previous week, the Red Roses smashed the new bar at Mattioli Woods Welford Road against Ireland in Round 4.
Some 15, 836 fans turned up to see local hero Scarratt win her 50th cap but they were kept fairly muted by a resolute defensive display from Ireland in the first half.
Tries for Davies and Bern were all England had to show for their possession at the break, going in just 10-0 to the good.
But they broke free in the second half, scoring nine tries with Thompson and replacements Ellie Kildunne and Cleall all claiming doubles.
That set up a grandstand finale in Bayonne as England and France came head to head in a Grand Slam decider.
And the Red Roses found themselves in an unfamiliar position after going behind very early after Romane Ménager crashed over under the sticks after cutting a superb line.
However, England showed their mettle and power as their unstoppable rolling maul got going, Bern scoring twice and Abbie Ward getting another to establish a 21-7 buffer at the break.
There was little to split the two best sides in the Championship after the interval, Scarratt’s penalty put England further in front before Annaëlle Deshaye’s 68th-minute try threatened to spark a late comeback that never quite materialised.
Both Marlie Packer and Sarah Bern were nominated for the TikTok Women’s Six Nations Player of the Championship.
But Packer’s brilliance on either side of the ball made her the star player, despite not featuring in the trip to Italy in Round 2.
The 32-year-old flanker scored four tries and laid on as many assists while also topping the charts for turnovers and carries.
Helena Rowland dazzled for England after a mid-Championship positional switch and it was her key piece of brilliance that helped to swing the crucial Grand Slam decider England’s way.
Having started at fly-half in Round 1 before moving out to inside centre for the following two games, Rowland switched to full-back for the final two matches.
Her free running and sidestepping from the back made her a dangerous threat throughout but it was a kick out of hand that stood out against France.
Rowland kicked a terrific 50:22 to help pull England back into things after France immediately went ahead.
Her superb touch-finder marched England deep into France’s territory, eventually leading to Bern’s first maul try.
Rosie Galligan capped a remarkable recovery from meningitis – which nearly claimed both of her legs – and a career-threatening leg injury in 2019 to play a starring role in the second row in the Championship.
Galligan, 23, feared for her life after a dramatic hospital stay but credits the NHS with saving both her life and her legs before making a comeback to the international stage 1146 days after her first cap.
Galligan started the wins over Scotland and Italy before delivering plenty of impact as a finisher against Wales, Ireland and France after the return of World Rugby’s Player of the Year Zoe Aldcroft to the engine room.
After winning four Championships and 23 games in a row, there has been no shortage of success for the Red Roses in recent times.
However, Middleton and his coaching staff will now shift their attention firmly to the delayed World Cup in New Zealand later this year.
They will meet France again in their pool but having now not lost to Les Bleues in their ten meetings, England can be confident of progressing.
Defending champions and hosts New Zealand were humbled twice by England in the autumn but should provide sterner opposition on home soil and with more training time together after the pandemic disrupted their preparations.
Nevertheless, England will be targeting a first Rugby World Cup triumph since 2014 and off the back of that, a fifth TikTok Women’s Six Nations title on the bounce.