England head coach Simon Middleton insists there are lessons to be learnt from his “roll of the dice” decision to bring on his entire bench during his side’s last-gasp win over France.
England looked to be heading for their first defeat against the French at Twickenham since the 2015 Six Nations when they were trailing by eight points with 20 minutes left in the second of their two autumn friendlies.
Middleton’s sweeping call to use all eight of his replacements on the hour mark – four of whom were part of England’s 2014 World Cup winning team – saw England move into another gear as they scored two tries in quick succession.
Among them was Emily Scarratt, the world player of the year, who kicked a penalty at the death to secure a 25-23 victory and extend her side’s winning Test streak to ten.
“Probably another two or three minutes later, and it would have been too late for us,” conceded Middleton. “We sort of rolled the dice with everyone at that point.
“It would have been 55 and 60 minutes when we would have split the bench coming on but we went all in one go because there was a long passage of play and some players had absolutely nothing left in the tank after that. It’s interesting, because it sort of gives you another tactical insight into what bringing on players is like.
“When we train, we generally swap en masse. But then, when we substitute [during a match], we substitute in ones and twos and you always think, ‘Is that wise?’ Maybe the way to go is what we just did there, so we’ll be looking at that and learning at that.”
England were without a string of first team players for their return autumnal fixture due to injury – Middleton put the number as high as 15 – including captain Sarah Hunter, winger Jess Breach and forwards Hannah Botterman, Sarah Bern and Vicky Fleetwood.
That his side still managed to pummel an aggressive, semi-professional French outfit underlines the huge depth England possess ten months out from next year’s World Cup in New Zealand, having also been bolstered by a host of players from the now-defunct sevens programme.
For Katy Daley-Mclean, who captained the side in Hunter’s absence, it was one of the best French performances the fly-half had come up against during her 14-year international career.
With the game broadcast for the second week running on BBC 2 on a Saturday during a national lockdown, the 34-year-old suggested the free-to-air slot eclipsed her feat of becoming the third most standalone capped English player after earning her 116th Test appearance at Twickenham.
“For us to be on the BBC is massive for the women’s game,” said Daley-Mclean. “As players, our job is to put on a show. Today definitely did that and for anyone who switched on in the last half an hour, it’s a spectacle of rugby you want to create.
“You want something competitive and a game that goes from end to end and a high level of skill. I think that last 20 minutes really showed that.”