England's campaign to make a second attempt at promotion out of the Women's European Indoor Challenge could hardly have got off to a worse start, when at 05:00 this morning Sally Walton was taken to a local hospital here in Rouen, suffering from suspected appendicitis.
The absence of a key member of the squad showed in the opening minutes of England's first match, when they took on a competent but very inexperienced Welsh side. Although England seemed to be in control of the match, they had trouble penetrating their opponent's defence and, in stark contrast to the games that had preceded it, we watched 17 minutes of goal-free hockey before eventually Chloe Rogers found the net from a corner.
The opening goal seemed to have a magical effect on England. Rogers found the net twice more in quick order, both from open play, and scored England's sixth and final goal in the dying minutes.
England's second match of the day was against France. France had given a very poor Turkish side an 11-1 hiding earlier in the day, which had given us little chance to judge their competency against firmer opposition. Playing on home soil, the French seemed to be the side to beat, and there were times during the encounter when they had England on the rack, particularly with a flurry of penalty corners just before the break.
Fortunately, England's defence proved to be watertight, and thankfully we only had to wait six minutes for England to open the scoring. It looked like being a repeat of the match against Wales, with Chloe Rogers scoring her second three minutes later. But Becky Herbert and Ashleigh Ball both had strong games with Herbert finding the net three times and Ball twice. You almost had to feel sorry for France, who seemed never to get the rub of the green and even had a penalty stroke saved, in this 7-1 win by England.
England are being joined by Birmingham University's Sarah Haycroft tomorrow as a replacement for Sally Walton. England play Sweden and Croatia tomorrow.
Images from today's England matches should appear on our www.HockeyImages.co.uk site later this evening (Friday).