England victory cause for twin celebration for Cleall sisters
England 52 Scotland 10
Poppy Cleall may have been hailed as the best player in the women’s game after her all action display against Scotland but the England player preferred to speak about twin sister Bryony’s return to the Red Roses after two years out due to injury.
Speaking to Telegraph Sport after England’s eight-try win, Poppy said: “The shirt presentation for me is always a proud moment but when I see Bryony go up there, everyone always gets a clap, but with Bryony returning after such a long time out, the cheering was an octave higher. It does make me well up a little bit.”
Bryony chipped in: “It has been a long old road and it feels incredible. At times you definitely question yourself, you question if it [returning to Test rugby] is ever going to be possible. I would like to say it was worth every minute!
“We have had many conversations where I have said ‘Poppy I can’t do it’ and she said ‘Don’t be stupid.’ She wrote me a note for one of my first club games back. She is straight talking and to the point but she would literally drag me up by my ears to get me back out on this rugby pitch to get her back out beside her.”
Just over two years ago the identical twins both played in England’s away win over Ireland but were not on the field together as Bryony came on as a replacement after Poppy had gone off to the bench. So the match in Doncaster had added meaning for the pair, particularly as Bryony broke her leg just a week after her England debut playing for their club Saracens. Problems persisted for over a year and she then sustained a stress fracture.
The 28-year-old twins also both contracted coronavirus and they had to keep fit and do conditioning in the living room of their shared home while isolating.
Bryony explained why she believes her sister is best in the women’s game. “I would sing it from the rooftops, I would say to anybody that asks that I think Poppy is the best player in the world right now. There is not a player out there in the world that has the same impact in games and you saw in the game. Scotland didn’t know what to do with her.
“She has got a tool box of tricks and she can use any of them at any time. If you go on the ball, she will bump you off, if you go on her, she will just offload the ball. If you give her space, she will go on the outside. The issue is that Poppy’s game is so well-rounded, I think you really have to look at how you are going to stop her playing so well.”
Despite the comfortable score-line, the game was far from perfect for England. Discipline was a major issue for both sides, as had been in the men’s competition as referees crack down following World Rugby directives. The result was a fractured second half, with Poppy receiving a yellow card for an infringement at the ruck while Lark Davies was sent to the sin bin for a high tackle.
Scotland’s Louise McMillan and Lisa Thompson were also both shown yellow by French referee Aurelie Groizeleau. Replacement front row Molly Wright was only on the field for three minutes before being shown red for a high tackle.
This area will be key in England’s preparation for Saturday’s fixture against Italy according to Poppy. “I think it is going to be discipline all week,” she said. Sara Cox, the first woman to officiate a Premiership match, had been brought into camp before Scotland’s match, mirroring what Wayne Barnes did for Eddie Jones’ men.
Poppy was emphatic that as well as players adapting to tackling lower, they must improve with existing laws. “The annoying ones are the ones where we should know better, they are the same laws we have had for ten years – ones like not rolling away or not releasing and taking a jumper out in the air. Those are the ones we really need to crack down on.
“Obviously our coaches are telling us to tackle lower but there are annoying ones we shouldn’t be making. My one came down to my decision-making; I shouldn’t be doing that at 44 caps. But hopefully as we go forward we can have less penalties.”
England: S McKenna; L Thompson (E Kildunne 63), E Scarratt (M Jones 65), L Tuima, J Breach; H Rowland, Riley (C MacDonald 65); V Cornborough (D Harper 65), L Davies (V Fleetwood 68), B Cleall (S Brown 56), A Ward, C O’Donnell (H Millar-Mills 65), Z Aldcroft, M Packer (A Cokayne 57), P Cleall.
P Cleall Yellow card 51, L Davies yellow card 57
Scotland: C Rollie; R Shankland, H Smith, L Thomson, M Gaffney, H Nelson, M McDonald (J Maxwell 63); L Bartlett (P Muzambe 72), L Skeldon, C Belisle (M Wright 60), E Wassell, L McMillan, R Malcolm (E Gallagher 40, L Cockburn 64), R McLachlan (J Rettie 72), S Cattigan.
L Thompson Yellow card 37, M Wright red card 63, L McMillan red card 78
Referee: Aurelie Groizeleau
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