Leeds Rhinos stars shine as England women crush Wales 60-0 in Headingley Test
Hardcastle, the 34-year-old centre, proved she is still a class act, bagging the opening two touchdowns in a player of the match performance.
She also set up a couple more, one with a stunning long-range break. That was scored by her Leeds teammate Caitlin Beeverts, playing out of position on the left-wing and Rhinos hooker Keara Bennett scored a fine touchdown late on.
England led 20-0 at half-time and ran in 11 tries in total, without really hitting top gear. Credit for that goes to Wales, who - despite the scoreline - gave a good account of themselves in difficult circumstances.
Already without Rhinos forward Bethan Dainton, their captain, because of injury, they lost loose-forward Shaunni Davies to concussion following a big collision with Hardcastle after just 15 minutes.
Wales couldn’t match England’s experience and rugby league know-how, but their effort was good and they forced the hesitant hosts into a series of errors in the first half. That allowed them to apply some heavy pressure, but England’s goal line defence was excellent and they exerted their dominance after the break.
NRL Grand Final winner Georgia Roche’s class showed, particularly a lovely short pass to send Hardcastle through for her second try off a clever scrum move and a fine solo try after the break.
Hardcastle opened the scoring with a powerful finish and also did most of the work for England’s fourth try, racing almost the length of the field before being dragged down a metre short by Wales full-back Leanne Burnell. Beevers, playing out of position on the left-wing, plunged over from acting-half.
That was scored when England were a player down, Vicky Molyneux - who announced her international retirement before the game - having been sin-binned for a high tackle on Brogan Evans.
Shone Hoyle crossed from close range for the other first half touchdown and Tara-Jane Stanley danced over the line at the start of the second period.
Debutant Lacey Owen, who had just been introduced off the bench in place of Beevers, was next to score before Roche went over for a brilliant solo try, Stanley crossed again and Tamzin Renouf benefitted from unselfish play by Hardcastle.
Bennett got on the scoresheet with seven minutes left and Emily Rudge scored on the final play, Stanley’s eighth goal completing the scoring.
Roche was Englandf’s only specialist half-back, playing alongside Tara Jones who is better known as a number nine.
It was a game England were always going to win, so might have been a chance to give more inexperienced players a go, Leeds stand-off Caitlin Casey, Super League’ young player of the year, for example.
On the other hand, this was only England’s second game of 2023 and obviously coach Stuart Barrow wants as much match action as possible for his senior players. He could be satisfied with the result, but his side can play much better.
England: Stanley, Partington, Renouf, Hardcastle, Beevers, T Jones, Roche, Hoyle,Bennett, Wood, Molyneux, Rudge, Cunningham. Subs Peach, Whitfield, Hornby, Owen.
Wales: Burnell, Michael, Norkett-Morgan, Saltire, Taylor, Marsh, Parker, S Jones, Reardon, Carr,H Jones, Mundy, Davies. Subs Price, Evans, Jenkins, Gibbons.
Referee: Enzo Peyre (France).