|Tries: Davies (2), Cleall, Smith, Scott Cons: Daley-Mclean|
|Tries: Tessier, Alarie, Holtkamp Cons: Miller, Harvey|
England needed two late tries to secure victory over a resilient Canada at Castle Park in Doncaster.
Two tries from Lark Davies and one from Poppy Cleall gave England a comfortable lead within the first half hour.
Canada’s Alex Tessier scored just before half-time, and they went within three points with a breakaway try from Elissa Alarie.
But tries from Kelly Smith and Abbie Scott stretched the lead before Courtney Holtkamp’s late consolation.
“Canada really put it to us and we had to find ways to score,” said Davies. “To come away with a win is massive for us but we’ve still got lots of learning to do. We’ve got to work as a pack and we did that today. We did really well to get over the line when we did.
“It was really physical. We always know that they’re going to be athletic players and they really brought it to us today. Our discipline wasn’t where it should have been but we’re on a learning journey.”
Coach Simon Middleton made 10 changes to the England side that had swept the USA aside 57-5 nine days earlier, with flanker Marlie Packer returning to the starting XV a week after pleading guilty to drink driving.
England’s three first-half tries all showcased the side’s prowess in the rolling maul, with Worcester Valkyries hooker Davies forcing her way over twice in 10 minutes before flanker Cleall, one of five Saracens players in the starting line-up, bundled over in similar fashion.
But with Lucy Attwood missing all three conversion attempts, Canada narrowed the deficit with a converted try in stoppage time when centre Tessier collected a deft chip from fly-half Anais Holly to touch down.
England camped in Canada’s half for much of the second half but conceded against the run of play when Alarie intercepted a pass just in front of her own try line. Canada’s captain raced downfield and just evaded England winger Smith to touch down in the corner for a try that Brianna Miller failed to convert.
But Smith showed no signs of her long chase when showing great strength to go over for England’s fourth try, collecting a fine pass from Rachael Burford to go over just inside the corner.
Scott put the result beyond any doubt with a try reminiscent of the first half when the lock, helped by impressive substitute Zoe Alcroft, charged over under the posts but Canada lock Holtkamp gave the visitors a deserved consolation from close range in stoppage time.
England coach Simon Middleton: “It was really tough. Canada brought exactly what we knew they would do – physicality and a good engine.
“They got a well-deserved try at the end. They played a good offloading game, they asked lots of questions and we answered most of them but they just got us at the end.
“The experience we have in the pack against the inexperience we had in the backs showed today. The youngsters will learn a lot from this and that’s where you need your senior players to stand up and they did.
“When Katy Daley-Mclean came on we got into our groove a bit. I was pleased with that because I wanted the crowd to see what we’re about.”
England women: McKenna (Saracens), Wood (Gloucester-Hartpury), Attwood (Bristol Bears), Burford (Harlequins), Smith (Gloucester-Hartpury), Harrison (Saracens), Riley (Harlequins); Cornborough (Harlequins), Davies (Worcester Valkyries), Botterman (Saracens), O’Donnell (Loughborough Lightning), Scott (Harlequins), Cleall (Saracens), Packer (Saracens) Hunter (Loughborough Lightning)
Replacements: Kerr (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), Perry (Saracens), Brown (Harlequins), Aldcroft (Gloucester-Hartpury), Brown (Loughborough Lightning), Macdonald (Wasps FC Ladies), Daley-Mclean, (Loughborough Lightning), Williams (Loughborough Lightning)
Canada: Alarie, Harvey, Thibault, Tessier, Poulin, Holly, Miller; DeMerchant, Russell, Menin, Beukeboom, Holtkamp, Senft, Slevinsky, Nelles.
Replacements: Carson, Harrigan, Laliberte, Fuamba, Svoboda, Josephson, Black, Patrinos