Baie kan in vier jaar gebeur. ’n Splinternuwe kompetisie kan rugbyspelers regoor Engeland die geleentheid bied om week ná week op elite-vlak te speel. Twenty nine of them can quit their day job and focus entirely on their sport. A single team, still the only fully professional side in the world, can transform themselves into the most dominant outfit on the planet.
That is the condensed story of England’s Red Roses. Beaten 41-32 in die 2017 World Cup final by New Zealand, they have now put 99 points on the current champions across two one-sided contests. The latest result, a 56-15 battering at Franklin’s Gardens, underlined a seismic shift in the global power balance.
Everything England did throughout the 80 minutes was done at a higher tempo than the Black Ferns. Helena Rowland was blistering in the backline and brought 9,366 people to the edge of their seats every time she charged through a half-gap. Amy Cokayne scored a hat-trick but did so much more around the park, rampaging in the loose and marshalling a slick lineout and maul machine with unnerving proficiency. Stitching it all together was Zoe Harrison, the sort of fly-half whose cognitive reading of the game suggests she could bend spoons with her mind if she so desired.
To single out any individual though would not tell the full picture as the main driver of this rout was the England set piece. At the scrum and in the maul the forwards were merciless, shoving with a unified hive mind against a Kiwi pack that looked disjointed by comparison.
The lineout, wel, was something else. Surgical and flawless, it discouraged New Zealand from seeking touch on relieving kicks and served as a white totem of England’s control. It also provided the opening try with Cokayne the beneficiary of a rumbling shunt inside New Zealand’s five metre zone.
The full-back Ellie Kildunne, omnipresent on attack and predictably safe under the high ball, scored the second shortly after which was set up near the right corner by Rowland’s quick hands. A penalty try just after a quarter of an hour, the result of Kendra Cocksedge’s knock-on which denied Lydia Thompson an easy score on the overlap, and Cokayne’s second from a maul just before half-time, meant England went into the break with a 28-0 lead that still belied their ascendency.
Cokayne completed her hat-trick five minutes after the restart from another maul. Harrison again nailed the extras in a perfect performance from the tee.
New Zealand offered some fightback and Portia Woodman dotted down the best try of the match near the right touchline. It was just reward for an improvement at the breakdown and a rare period of blunder-free passing. It was not a sign of things to come. A howler at the lineout five metres from their own line saw the ball fall to Leanne Infante who scored the easiest try of her career.
The replacement full-back Sarah McKenna was shown a yellow card for obstructing New Zealand ball and the extra space in the wide channel was exploited by Stacey Fluhler that came about from neat work in midfield. On the evidence of this particular move one can’t help but wonder what might have been if New Zealand’s backline had seen more of the ball and had not appeared so rushed when they had it.
Reverting to basics, the substitute hooker Lark Davies motored over from close range after that lethal maul spluttered back into life. England’s eighth was a departure as Abby Dow cantered home down the left from 40 metres out. New Zealand had the final say as Fluhler turned provider for Woodman’s second, but it was barely a consolation. This was a collision of two rugby teams from two different economic ecosystems and it showed.