The women’s World Cup tournament kicked off at Headingley in Leeds this afternoon, with hosts England welcoming international newcomers Brazil, as part of a double-header at the famous ground.
The Amazons are the the first South American side to play in a World Cup tournament, and while they might not have a lot of rugby league experience – having only played on game, a friendly against France last week, since qualifying against Argentina in 2018, they brought plenty of wider sports background to the tie.
Captain Maria Graf has tasted life as a rugby union referee, volleyball player and judoka, as well as an under-18 Brazilian champion league player.
The team selection from England saw Fran Goldthorp take the field at full-back while woman of steel Tara-Jane Stanley - who played in the position all season for her club York, and has the No 1 shirt in the squad moved to centre.
I was the hosts who got the game under way, while Brazil made the first mistake, knocking on in the opening set 20m from their own goal-line. Gifted possession, England moved the ball wide to the right beyond a compressed defence to Caitlin Beevers, who ran in to score on her home ground after just two minutes.
Stanley was next over in the same corner, getting between the Brazilian defenders with a sidestep and running infield to make her own conversion attempt easier - but not easy enough as she missed her second kick of the afternoon,
On 10 minutes Emily Rudge kicked through on the right into a gap left by the full back but England couldn’t turn it into a score as the ball bounced on the touchline before coming back infield.
Five minutes later, half-back Courtney Winfield-Hill was on the score sheet as the England attack switch to the left. Winfield-Hill broke through the line, twisting and bouncing out of three tackles before running clear. This time, Stanley got nearer to goal, but the ball bounced off the upright.
England still hadn’t converted any of their three tries, but the score stood at 12-0 as Brazil were still trying to find their way into the game.
When Winfield-Hill ran through for second try on 22 minutes, though, she managed to run through to ground it under the posts and Stanley sicked her first successful conversion for an 18-0 lead.
Minutes later Brazil powered over the line with Franciny Amaral but were held up and ended up with a confused end to their set, though within the England 10m.
But England powered down the field and prop Grace Field, fresh off the replacement bench, was in position to receive an off-load and and run ahead to score under the posts. Stanley’s second conversion made the score 24-0.
When England won a scrum on 35 minutes after an unsuccessful Brazilian captain’s challenge to a knock-on in the tackle, the ball was passed out to Amy Hardcastle, who burst through an Amazonas defence still organising itself and sprinted ahead for a try under the posts again. With Stanley’s conversion, that made the score 30-0.
As half-time loomed, England were awarded a penalty and from the following play the ball, Stanley’s footwork beat Brazil’s left-hand defence again for her to score in the corner. She couldn’t convert from the touchline, though, and England went into the break 34-0 up.
The hosts started the second half, as they ended the first, dominating and making metres in the first set. And in the second set, they kicked through, the Brazil defence failed to deal with the grubber, which came off the full-back’s boot Fran Goldthorp scooped up the ball and put it down on the other side of the goal-line to score. Stanley converted and England led 40-0.
Hardcastle was next to cross, in the left corner, for her second try of the game, for a 44-0 score after Stanley again missed with the touchline kick.
15 minutes into the half through, Brazil managed to put together threatening possession in the England half to look like their first World Cup try might come, but again couldn’t find the right move to end their set, despite being in the hosts 10m.
But that score came in the 58th minute, when they pressed when they pressed again and smuggled an offload out of a tackle in England territory for Natalia Momberg to dart ahead and score in the corner. The Conversion attempt was missed and the score stood at 44-4 three quarters into the game.
England hit back though, after Brazil lost the ball in their own 20m and Tara Jones powered through a wide gap for her sixth England try, Stanley Coverted and brought up the 50 for England.
Then Hardcaslte broke through on the England left for her hat-trick try from 30m out. Stanley’s sixth conversion took the score to 58-4.
Leah Burke was next to score in the left corner, on 70 minutes as the heaven opened at Headingley. Standley’s touchline conversion attempt bounced off the crossbar; the score stood at 62-4.
Winfield-Hill scored her debut England hat-trick try in the same corner two minutes later, thanks to a beautifully timed offload by Holly Burke and this time Stanley kicked the ball over the bar and between the posts for a successful touchline conversion.
England led by 66-4, with five minutes of the match left.
Olivia Wood scored her debut try just as the hooter sounded, running in to ground the ball under the posts and giving Stanley and easy kick for her eighth conversion from 14 attempts.
England’s World Cup was off to a solid start against a team playing just their third game as a group - the 2018 qualifying game against Argentina, the warm-up against France and this first World Cup game.
England: Goldthorp (T); Beevers (T), Stanley (2T, 8G), Hardcastle (3T), Burke (T); Roche, Windfield-Hill (3T); Holyle, Jones (T), Wood (T), Molyneux, Rudge, Cunningham. Subs: Harris, Dodd, Whitfield, Field (T).
Brazil: Momberg (T); Santini, Medeiros, Felix, Fernandes; Moura, Graf; Amaral, Bodeman, Barros, Oliveira, Welter, Leal. Subs: Barth, Casemiro, Prioste, Loschi de Quadros.
Full Time: 72-4
Half Time: 34-0.
Score Progression: 4-0, 8-0, 12-0, 16-0, 18-0, 22-0, 24-0, 28-0, 30-0, 34-0. HT. 38-0, 40-0, 44-0, 44-4, 48-4, 50-4, 54-4, 58-4, 62-4, 66-4, 70-4, 72-4.
Attendance: 8,621 at Emerald Headingley Stadium, Leeds.
Referee: Rochelle Tamarua.