Vicky Fleetwood hailed England’s strength in depth after a much-changed side thrashed Italy 60-3 at Goldington Road to finish their November Quilter Internationals unbeaten.
The Red Rose followed up back-to-back wins against France with a comprehensive showing against the Azzurre, running in ten tries for a 17th straight victory on home soil.
Tries from Fleetwood, Poppy Cleall, Heather Kerr and Abby Dow saw the hosts race into a 22-3 half-time lead, with the first three scores all down to England’s powerful forward pack.
Further tries from Emily Scarratt, Kerr again, Amy Cokayne, Rownita Marston and Sarah Bern, plus an additional penalty try, sealed the deal in the second half for Simon Middleton’s side.
And with the defence of their Six Nations crown on the horizon, Fleetwood stressed the importance of England’s whole squad after the hosts made seven changes for Italy’s visit.
“We stuck to our principles, played it through the forwards when we needed to and shifted it out to the backs when it was open for them,” said Fleetwood.
“It was scrappy at times but great to come away with the win. It was definitely enjoyable playing in that pack and being able to turnover those scrums.
“Having Sarah Bern and Ellena Perry come on off the bench was massive for us. I like to score against Italy, I haven’t scored many against other teams so it was nice to get on the scoreboard.
“We’ve built throughout the autumn and have learned from every game and hopefully we can continue to build through the Six Nations.
“I think going into this World Cup cycle one of the big things from the coaches has been making sure that we’ve got that strength in depth within the squad and players can step up.
“You saw that I got a go back in the front row last week so we’re just making sure we’ve got contingency plans if we have injuries or people are ill, things like that.”
Following back-to-back wins against France on the road and at home, the rampant Red Roses landed their first blow against Italy inside five minutes when Fleetwood finished off a driving maul.
The Azzurre responded almost immediately with a simple three-pointer, only for England to head straight back down the other end and exert their physical prowess once again.
This time it was Cleall who put the finishing touches to the hosts’ second try before Kerr and Dow added further scores going into the break as England began to twist the knife.
And they continued to pile the pressure on their visitors after the restart, with their relentless persistence paying dividends when they added a fifth try through Scarratt on 49 minutes.
Scarratt added the extras to extend England’s lead to 29-3 and it was not long before they had a sixth try as Kerr doubled her personal tally before the hour mark.
Cokayne then joined the party soon after arriving off the bench, benefitting from another England driving maul as Zoe Harrison took over kicking duties and added the extras.
Even with the game done and dusted, the Red Roses continued to push forward and added three more scores through a penalty try and late efforts from Marston and Bern.