Simon Middleton will have a selection headache in the coming weeks after the Red Roses hammered South Africa with a ridiculous 13 tries at Waitakere Stadium last Sunday.
The Springboks encountered an almost completely new starting 15 compared to England’s previous pool turnouts, with the only constants being first-time skipper Marlie Packer and flyhalf Zoe Harrison.
It speaks to the strength and depth of this squad that Middleton is able to make such a rotation and still have faith in their extreme dominance, but he is now faced with the pleasant dilemma of deciding which talent to put forward in the quarter-final and subsequent knockouts.
It wasn’t all perfect, however; England’s performance was decisive but stuttering at times.
As has been the established pattern in these pool games, the Roses weren’t as clinical in the first half as they should, and need, to be.
South Africa brought an initial physicality that forced errors from England, particularly in the contact, with later scorers Rosie Galligan and Shaunagh Brown both losing the ball on ground connection.
Middleton will be looking to iron out those handling mistakes that could make them vulnerable under pressure from higher-ranking teams.
Centre Zintle Mpupha and number eight Aseza Hele capitalised on an often staggered defence to make some bullish runs for the Boks, but it was not enough to get them over the whitewash.
Despite these inaccuracies, England rumbled over with their trademark driving maul in first five minutes to give Galligan the first of her three scores.
Galligan dotted down another in a similar fashion at the half-hour mark, followed closely by yet another driving maul score this time grounded by Brown.
South Africa could not contend with the relentlessness of the English catch and drive and showed how difficult this weapon is to defend after captain Nolusindiso Booi was sent to the bin for her team’s maul infringements.
It’s clear that the Roses default to their set-piece processes when they find themselves under pressure, but it does come at a detriment to their attacking game.
A significant frustration of England’s attack against France last week was their resistance to giving their backline time and space on the ball.
All five tries in this opening half against South Africa were scored by the forwards in attritional play.
In fact, only two of the whole 13 tries were taken over by backs.
England must start to take more risks and allow the creativity and seasoned ability of their runners to show or they will become predictable.
The second half showed what the world number ones can do when they play more open and dynamic rugby.
Abby Dow exhibited a great read of space after catching a high ball in the 53rd minute, carving around the edge of the South African defensive line before offloading beautifully to Tatyana Heard in support.
Heard then expertly drew two defenders to create space for a quick pop to Galligan who went over in the corner for her hat trick.
Flowing more effectively as a unit allowed these collective scores to start appearing in the second half, something England have been missing in the tournament so far.
Heard joined the ranks of Galligan and Powell, as a player who firmly put her hand up for starting position in the coming rounds.
The centre’s strength, hand-offs and hard lines broke defenders on a number of occasions and with only six caps she showed a maturity on the ball you usually see from more seasoned internationals.
Despite not getting her name on the board, her individual efforts and assists were crucial in setting up England’s success in this clash.
Galligan’s hat-trick performance has also undoubtedly set off bells in Middleton’s mind.
This time three years ago, the Harlequins lock was hospitalised after contracting meningitis and shortly after returning to play she suffered a career-threatening ankle injury.
Last Sunday, however, she put those setbacks to bed after stepping up to be a loud voice in the line-out and maul, as well as positioning herself well on the edges.
England were uncompromising in their punishment of South Africa’s fatigue towards the end, but the goal-kicking left much to be desired.
Conversions were often missed by Harrison, who slotted only four before Helena Rowland came on to add the fifth.
This may have an impact on who Middleton leans towards for the ten shirt in the latter stages of the tournament, however the presence of Emily Scarratt at 13 is sure to relieve Harrison of that responsibility.
After hammering South Africa, England extend their winning streak to 28 and now switch focus to their quarter-final match against Australia this Sunday at 1:30am BST.
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