England head coach Simon Middleton insists there are lessons to be learned from his decision to ‘roll the dice’ to put all his bench in in his side’s last win over England. France.
England appeared to be heading towards their first loss to the French at Twickenham since the 2015 Six Nations, as they trailed by eight points with 20 minutes remaining in the second of their two fall friendlies.
Middleton’s call to use their eight substitutes per hour – four of whom were part of the 2014 World Cup-winning British squad – saw England shift to another gear as they scored two successive tries .
Among them was Emily Scarratt, the World Player of the Year, who threw a death penalty to secure a 25-23 victory and extend her team’s winning test streak to ten.
“Probably another two or three minutes later, and it would have been too late for us,” Middleton conceded. “We kind of rolled the dice with everyone at that point.
“It would have taken 55 and 60 minutes when we split the bench ahead, but we went all at once because there was a long stretch of play and some players had absolutely nothing in the tank after that. This is interesting, because it kind of gives you another tactical look at what attracting players is like.
“When we train, we usually exchange en masse. But then, when we replace [during a match], we replace them with two and two and you still think, “Is that wise?” Maybe the way forward is what we just did there, so we’ll take a look at that and learn from that.
England were without a string of first-team players for their fall comeback game due to injury – Middleton raised the number to 15 – including captain Sarah Hunter, winger Jess Breach and the forwards Hannah Botterman, Sarah Bern and Vicky Fleetwood.
The fact that his side have consistently managed to hit an aggressive, semi-professional French side underlines the enormous depth England have ten months away from next year’s World Cup in New Zealand, having also been bolstered by a host of players from the now-defunct program.
For Katy Daley-Mclean, who was the team captain in Hunter’s absence, this was one of the best French performances the demi-mouche had encountered in her 14-year international career.
With the game airing for week two on TBEN 2 on a Saturday during a nationwide lockdown, the 34-year-old suggested the free slot machine has eclipsed her feat of becoming England’s third-most independent player after she won its 116th. Appearance test at Twickenham.
“For us, being on the TBEN is huge for women’s football,” Daley-Mclean said. “As players, our job is to put on a show. Today it’s definitely done and for anyone who’s been out in the last half hour, this is a rugby show you want to create.
“You want something competitive and a game that goes from start to finish and a high level of skill. I think the last 20 minutes really showed that.”