Defending champions England open with routine Spain win

Gulf in class clear as a sparse crowd turns up to watch World Cup opener at Belfield Bowl

Alex Matthews scores during England’s opening win over Spain. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

Alex Matthews scores during England’s opening win over Spain. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

 

Body language is often a physical expression of the mental state. Watching the Spain and England teams walk through the northeast gate of the Belfield Bowl from the warm-up pitches to the dressing rooms ahead of the opening match of the Women’s World Cup, the contrast in demeanour was striking.

The England players trotted around the perimeter of the pitch, purposeful in stride, focused and for the most part ignoring the shrieks of support from the 200 or so supporters – it swelled to about 400 by the time the match began – that had taken their vantage points for the first game of the tournament.

About 10-minutes earlier Spain completed a similar journey albeit at a more languid pace. Pinched faces suggested that they were fully conversant with the task ahead in taking on the reigning Women’s world champions.

About two thirds of the Spanish side have played on the elite World Series Sevens circuit and that quality was borne out subsequently with some fine individual displays, notably from outhalf Patricia Garcia, wing Iera Echebarria and secondrow Berte Garcia to highlight three but collectively they could not live with England’s pace and precision.

England coach Simon Middleton could afford not to start several frontline players including the gifted Emily Scarrett, who eventually joined the fray at halftime, without any diminution in the quality of their patterns; the English side played with width, pace, ran aggressively and where possible offloaded in the tackle.

Spain, who warmed up for the tournament in Bandon, west Cork, and elicited some help from former French assistant men’s coach Regis Sonnes – he led Bandon to a Munster Junior Cup win last season – were gutsy and gallant in defeat but 10 tries and a 56-5 score-line was a fair reflection of England’s superiority.

Left wing Kay Wilson, who scored seven tries against Scotland during England’s Grand Slam campaign last season, crossed for four, all of which were the by-product of fine teamwork, as befits the pre-tournament favourites.

Pockets of Spanish supporters occasionally mustered a plaintive cry of ES-PAN-A, reaching a crescendo when Diana Gasso dotted down for her team’s solitary score.

Otherwise the atmosphere replicated that of a training session, the players’ voices audible in what was a soft opening to the tournament in terms of spectating numbers. 

USA women opened their World Cup campaign with a hard-fought win over Italy. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho
USA women opened their World Cup campaign with a hard-fought win over Italy. Photograph: Bryan Keane/Inpho

The second match at the Bowl saw a USA side slated to provide England with their ‘toughest’ game in Pool B, beat Italy 24-12, a game in which the final score didn’t reflect the nature of the match as the Italians provided doughty resistance in a game that offered a genuine contest.

One aspect common to both matches is the positive impact the influx of Sevens players, their athleticism, pace and handling skills offering a different dimension from World Cups past. American wings Kristen Thomas, who scored two tries, and Naya Tapper were conspicuous in that respect.

Shortly before the final whistle the greening of the Belfield Bowl began in earnest, the Ireland supporters looking for position and possession in the stands in anticipation of the arrival of host nation. 

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