Marlie Packer scores hat-trick of tries as England overpower Scotland

Glorious sunshine ushered in a new era for the Women’s Six Nations but anyone not affiliated with England would have felt a cold shiver after a brutal display from the Red Roses in Edinburgh. Marlie Packer scored three tries with six of her teammates registering one apiece as the world No 1 team obliterated Scotland to begin their title defence in some style.

It was a scrappy start, though, as passes failed to meet their intended destination and those that did were grassed. Scotland’s set piece and tenacity at the breakdown caused some early discomfort for England. But the indomitable machine soon spluttered into life and once it did there was only going to be one result.

The rout began on eight minutes when the impressive Leanne Infante tapped quickly from a penalty and cut up field. Poppy Cleall brought it close to the line before Packer burrowed over for her 22nd try for her country.

Cleall had one of her own shortly after thanks to England’s direct approach around the fringe with Packer punching holes in the tight channel. Emily Scarratt, playing her first Test for 11 months, converted to nudge England’s Six Nations tally beyond 4,000 points.

Scotland replied with a wonderful score that began with a lineout on the right and ended with Chloe Rollie diving over near the left corner, but this was a rare riposte. Three England tries in nine minutes secured the bonus point and ended the contest.

Helena Rowland is a fly-half but she attacks the line and welcomes the collision like a back-rower. It was her dart that sucked in three defenders before an offload unleashed Heather Cowell down the right. Not to be undone, Abigail Dow ran in from 30 metres after a strong hand-off and clever step and then Packer bagged her second from the back of a driving maul.

“One of the things we wanted to add was unpredictability [to our attack],” the England coach, Simon Middleton, said of the variety of tries scored. “There was a bit of everything. We were fairly clinical when we got near the line. Lots of positives.”

Scotland’s defence needs work. Tackles were too easily brushed aside and they were meek when countering England’s maul. But when they had the ball they showed patience and clean hands. What they lacked was penetration and England’s ruthlessness, as much as anything else, is a major point of difference.

So, too, is their speed from the ruck. Infante’s distribution was electric throughout and she had a deserving try before the interval when prop Sarah Burn straightened, accelerated and off-loaded in the tackle like a centre.

Scotland spent the first 10 minutes of the second half camped in England’s 22 but only had a disallowed try to show for it. England were not so wasteful. Their first foray up field saw Holly Aitchison collect Rowland’s bouncing chipped kick in the try area.

Both teams rang the changes but none had a more immediate impact than Connie Powell. The replacement hooker was on the field less than a minute when she scored from the back of another unstoppable lineout maul.

England has 30 full-time professional players to choose from. Scotland has none. This sobering fact explains so much and the effects played out in the closing quarter. A chasm in pace, power and fitness became apparent.

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Packer sealed her hat-trick on 65 minutes when she charged over from close range. Along with 13 carries and a perfect tackle success rate, the Saracens flanker backed up claims from Middleton that she is the best player in the world.

Scotland refused to fade and fought hard in the second half. The scoreline does not reflect their tenacity and contribution to an entertaining occasion. It does, however, send an ominous warning from England to the rest of the competition.