England open Women’s Six Nations defence with Italy mauling despite early red

England kicked off their Women’s Six Nations title defence with an eight-try 48-0 trouncing of Italy in Parma despite having Sarah Beckett sent off after just 11 minutes.

The hosts, who have finished fifth the last two years, were no match for the 2023 Grand Slam winners who picked up a bonus point as they began their quest for a sixth successive championship in style.

Beckett was dismissed early on for a dangerous ruck clear-out but only after becoming the first woman to have her yellow card upgraded to a red by the TMO ‘bunker’ system.

But it did little to harm England’s chances as they eased into a 10-point lead at half-time courtesy of tries from Hannah Botterman and Abbie Ward.

England, for whom captain Marlie Packer won her 100th cap, picked up their performance after the break and added a further six tries to seal a comprehensive win.

Ellie Kildunne (two), Lark Atkin-Davies, Helena Rowland, Mackenzie Carson and Connie Powell all touched down despite the visitors being reduced to 13 players in the 69th minute when Rowland was yellow-carded for head contact at a ruck.

Head coach John Mitchell praised his players for the way they reacted to losing a player so early.

England Women's coach John Mitchell
England coach John Mitchell praised his players’ response to an early red card (Mike Egerton/PA)

“We responded really calmly. It’s testament to this team that they are able to play with 14, eventually 13, players,” he told England Rugby.

“We were building pressure coming up to half-time, and at the end of the day the girls responded to a difficult situation and got out of it really calmly.”

Packer said the experience had been “a super-special day”.

“I couldn’t have done it without my family and all the people who have supported me along my journey. I’m really thankful to them,” she said.