'We weren’t curtain raisers. It was all about us' - Red Roses end Middleton era on the highest of highs

Simon Middleton's tenure as England boss ended on a high as the Red Roses clinched another Six Nations crown
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It might have been a nervy start but once Abby Dow tore down the right wing to open the scoring for England on Saturday, it set the tone for an afternoon to remember.

Four more tries were scored in quick succession and England headed into the break leading 33-0 against a dogged-looking France.

After a fine performance from the Sugarbabes as the half-time entertainment, it was France who ran rampant in the second half, scoring five tries to the Red Roses one. England could not push on after the break but their first-half heroics were enough to secure the Grand Slam once again.

Sadia Kabeya deservedly won player of the match. The 21-year-old made 20 tackles and carried 14 times for more than 100 metres. She was outstanding and her tenacity in the tackle area allowed England to gain regular front-foot ball.

On the pitch, the Red Roses have been the most dominant team throughout their Six Nations campaign. The forward pack have been sensational and despite a few injuries to key positions in the backline (most importantly at fly-half), the Red Roses scored 91 tries in the Championships, a tournament record.

The side under Simon Middleton, Louis Deacon and Scott Bemand have won five Six Nations and four Grand Slams, reached two Rugby World Cup finals and went 30 matches unbeaten until their loss in the final to New Zealand last November. The standards they have set - and continued to set - are phenomenal. 

Will the Red Roses continue to be as successful and be able to sustain their winning run under a new management team? Only time will tell as it’s yet to be announced who will take over the reins but whoever comes in will still have a remarkable pool of talent to choose from.

Off the pitch, 'Super Saturday' was spectacular. It was an emotional day for all those involved in women’s rugby. Seeing thousands of young boys and girls witness a women’s rugby match on home turf was something special. Hopefully, it won't be too long before we see the stadium sell out entirely.

Many of the Red Roses squad had not played at Twickenham before Saturday so it was a wonderful occasion for many - a real 'pinch me' moment for them.

"I can’t put into words how good it was,” England skipper Marlie Packer said. “From the bus journey into Twickenham, that was a pinch yourself moment. There were fans all along the streets, it was a very special occasion from start to finish."

Departing head coach Simon Middleton added: "You want a good performance from your team because you know that will be the root of the result but ultimately when you get to finals day like this, you want to win. We won by playing some fantastic rugby.

"Full credit to France, the character they showed was absolutely exceptional. We invited them in and they came to the party big time. The crowd was phenomenal. This is where the game needs to be."

The future for women’s rugby is exciting. The Rugby World Cup in 2025 is going to be held in England which will encourage many more people to jump on the Red Roses bandwagon and bang that drum for more exposure: “I want to sell out Twickenham and I believe we can at the Rugby World Cup final [in 2025]," Packer added.

“Look at today [Saturday], we weren’t no curtain raisers, it was all about us. The other nations, they’re all closing the gap. They’re all getting professional contracts. The quality of rugby you’re getting to see across the game is what will allow more tickets to sell out come 2025."

While there is rightly a look to the future, Saturday did mark the end of an era for Middleton as he bowed out lifting the trophy on Saturday afternoon.

"I feel an immense amount of pride. The game has given me just as much as I’ve given the game without a shadow of a doubt.

"I think some of the characters in this side are just brilliant. I think I’ll miss game day and watching how they step up to the plate when they go out and play for England.

"They’re so proud and conscious of the responsibility. I'll also miss how they engage with the crowd at the end of the games - I think that’s massively important to keep that connection with the fans. I think it’s a massive part of what the Red Roses are about."

The game will no doubt miss Middleton and backs coach Bemand because of what they’ve achieved for women’s rugby but it’s time for a change and the outgoing Red Roses boss believes that England need an injection of energy, and someone to put their own spin on things.

Middleton has left behind undeniably sturdy foundations and whoever takes up his role has got plenty to work with. For now though, it’s about celebrating the women and the great show they put on on Saturday.