Rugby League World Cup: Hat-trick scorer Amy Hardcastle hails fans as England thrash Brazil in opener
The St Helens centre was one of the stars of the 72-4 win at Headingley.
Hundreds of schoolchildren swelled an impressive crowd of more than 8.500 – comfortably the biggest for a women’s rugby league game in the northern hemisphere – and saw the hosts run in 14 tries to the backdrop of a six-piece samba band on the South Stand terrace.
And while the youthful crowd celebrated England’s comprehensive victory, they also witnessed a bit of unlikely World Cup history when Natalia Momberg crossed for the Amazonas’ first ever try in the tournament on the hour mark.
“It was overwhelming and there was a feeling of pride with everybody here and so many people coming down here and supporting us,” said St Helens centre Hardcastle, who is appearing in her third World Cup having made her debut in 2013.
“It was one of the best crowds I have ever played in front of and it felt like we had the whole of England behind us, it was fantastic. You are always going to start with a few nerves and it was a great opportunity to shake them off.”
England led 34-0 at half-time and came agonisingly close to eclipsing their previous record win of 72-0 against Russia in the 2008 World Cup.
As the Brazilians, playing only their third international fixture, inevitably tired, both Hardcastle and Courtney Winfield-Hill completed their hat-tricks while there were also tries from Caitlin Beevers, Grace Field, Fran Goldthorpe, Tara Jones, Leah Burke, Olivia Wood and a brace from Tara-Jane Stanley, who added 16 points with the boot.
But while England coach Craig Richards expressed satisfaction with his side’s opening display, he conceded a degree of disappointment with Momberg’s history-making moment, when she spurted over on the right flank to spark celebrations in the Brazilian ranks.
“I didn’t want to give them (Brazil) anything,” admitted Richards. “I think they’ve got a great future and they’ve had their moment, but I wasn’t happy with that try.
“When you come into games like this you understand that things will open up for us and I thought once we settled in you could see some of the stuff we have been working on, and we got a lot out of the game.
“We’ve got an energy in our defence, there’s a willingness to get over the line and wrestle in contact, and when you enjoy defending that will give you the licence to go out and play and that’s what we want to do.”
Richards, who will give his remaining squad members a run-out in their second group game against Canada next Saturday, warned of sterner tests to come.
“We need to improve week on week, and we are not going to rack up scores like this every week,” said Richards. “That’s unrealistic. We’ll build and improve but it might not always look like it in terms of the scoreboard.”
Brazil captain Maria Graf said her team, who had only previously played in front of crowds numbering in the hundreds, could take pride in their performance, which was capped by Momberg’s magical moment on the left flank.
“For us it doesn’t matter about the score, we are happy because we are making history in the World Cup,” said Graf.
“It was tough but I think we were well prepared and we will focus on the next game now. It’s our first time in the Rugby League World Cup and it’s an honour to represent Brazil and South America.
“Our history here is still beginning and it was a special moment for us.”