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England star suffers broken leg, Leicester Tigers make a ‘sorry mess’ and Rob Baxter unhappy



Joy and despair for England in the Six Nations as they notched their 21st straight Test victory in front of a record crowd for a standalone women’s match on English soil, with a 58-5 win of 10 tries to one against Wales in Gloucester.

But there were distressing sights and sounds for the 14,689 folk at Kingsholm, and the TV audience on BBC2 – which was pitched opposite ITV’s coverage of the Grand National – as Saracens wing Abby Dow broke her right leg taking a double tackle in the opening quarter.

Dow, who has 24 caps and 23 tries for her country, was said by England on Sunday to be “comfortable in hospital”, ahead of surgery, amid worries over her participation in the autumn’s World Cup.

Candidates to slot in at full-back for the visit of Ireland to Leicester’s Welford Road on Sunday week, when the crowd record might be immediately exceeded, include Ellie Kildunne, Sarah McKenna and fly-half Helena Rowland.

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So England’s dominance of the women’s game continues, led by flanker Marlie Packer’s 13 carries and 10 tackles, and Emily Scarratt’s carrying for 147 metres, but the Wales captain Siwan Lillicrap posted a social-media message of collective positivity in the small hours of Sunday morning: “People feel and see how much it means to us… I feel a true change of the perception of women’s sport and Welsh women’s rugby. What I can assure you is, we will review, reflect and be honest with ourselves. Then work hard again to be better than before.”

Leicester reduce Clermont to ‘sorry mess’

Six away wins in eight matches in the first legs of the European Champions Cup round of 16 justified the seedings from the pool stage. The two exceptions were home wins by Montpellier, the French league leaders, 40-26 over Harlequins on Saturday, and Exeter Chiefs, 13-8 over an injury-hit Munster on Saturday.

Second-half tries by George Hammond, Andre Esterhuizen, Joe Marchant and Louis Lynagh catapulted Quins back into contention after they had trailed 34-0. Elsewhere, Semi Radradra came off the bench to run in the decisive try for Bristol in an uninspiring 10-9 success at Sale.

And Leicester Tigers were magnificent 29-10 winners In Clermont Auvergne, as the Premiership pacesetters reduced the home pack to a “sorry mess”, in the opinion of TV analyst Ben Kayser, a veteran of both teams. This sets up a heavyweight quarter-final between Leicester and Leinster at Welford Road in early May, assuming no calamity for either side in this weekend’s second legs.

Baxter unhappy at refereeing inconsistency

One thing that never changes is the call for consistency from referees, but four cards – two red, two yellow – for making contact with the head showed the difficulty of making comparisons and finding a consensus.

As Saracens won their final European Challenge Cup pool match at Brive, to earn a home quarter-final with Cardiff next Sunday, there was no debate over the red card to Brive’s Argentinian full-back Axel Muller for launching into the chin of Sarries’ wing Ben Harris. But matters were less clear-cut at Clermont, with Leicester centre Guy Porter was red-carded for clashing heads with Fritz Lee, who went off with blood pouring from his head. A straightforward case of two players running into each other? Not under the head-contact framework, which dictates a duty of care on Porter’s part, as the advancing player.

At Exeter, where i was in attendance, home wing Olly Woodburn took a yellow for his forearm hitting Munster’s Niall Scannell in the face at a ruck, while in Connacht, the Leinster and Ireland scrum-half Jamison Gibson-Park had the same punishment after his shoulder collided with opposite number Kieran Marmion.

Some said Gibson-Park could only have avoided the clash if he had simply jumped out of the way; others including TV analyst Brian O’Driscoll reckoned Marmion’s bloodied nose and the respective body angles meant Gibson-Park was “very lucky” not to see red. Exeter’s head coach Rob Baxter was adamant it was wrong for Woodburn to go the sin bin, as Munster pegged the 2020 European champions to just a five-point advantage ahead of Saturday’s second leg in Limerick.

“I am never one to try and find fault with the process,” Baxter said, “but that is just a rugby clear-out that’s happening probably 20, 30, 40 times in a game. I thought we’d moved beyond that – moved beyond people who are a foot off the ground. That’s not what the [television match official] process is for.”

Cardiff need to pick themselves up

In the Challenge Cup, the 10 teams qualifying from the pools will be joined by six dropping down from the Champions Cup in an attractive round of 16.

Edinburgh will host Bath, while Glasgow go to Newcastle, and there is an all-English tie between Gloucester and Northampton, with the winners facing Saracens or Cardiff in the quarter-finals.

Cardiff will need to pick themselves up from Saturday’s extraordinary 49-14 home loss to Scarlets in the URC. The Blue and Blacks were 14-7 up at half-time but injuries and two yellow cards contributed to a spectacular turnaround at the Arms Park.

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