England cruised into the Women’s Six Nations final as they marked captain Sarah Hunter’s comeback after more than a year on the sidelines by running in nine tries to record a thumping 67-3 win in Italy.
It was a much-changed England side from the one that thrashed Scotland 52-10 last weekend, with Hunter making her first international appearance in 13 months after injury troubles, and the visitors made a nervy start in Parma.
But England did not look back once Emily Scarratt touched down after an Italy mistake midway through the first half, as they made sure they finished top of Pool A to book their spot in the tournament showpiece in two weeks’ time.
Their opponents from Pool B will be known next week after Ireland take on France, but England’s place is assured after a largely commanding display at the Stadio Sergio Lanfranchi, where both sides paid tribute to Prince Philip.
There was a two-minute silence before kick-off in honour of the late Duke of Edinburgh, who died on Friday at the age of 99, while England’s players wore black armbands.
After Scarratt had opened the scoring, Vicky Fleetwood registered England’s second try in the 28th minute, going over after collecting Megan Jones’ offload as Italy were once again made to pay for coughing up possession.
Michela Sillari split the posts with a penalty, but Helena Rowland’s three-pointer gave England a 17-3 lead at the interval before the visitors ran roughshod over their opponents in a one-sided second half.
Abby Dow bagged a brace of tries either side of Harriet Millar-Mills and Rowland touching down, while Bryony Cleall crossed the whitewash to bring up England’s half-century.
Claudia MacDonald and Lark Davies added further gloss to the scoreline in a match where Scarratt finished with a 24-point haul as she added to her deadlock-breaking try with eight conversions and a penalty