England Women remain on track to retain their RBS 6 Nations title after a hard fought 16-3 victory over France – while England Women Under 20s overcame rain, mud and a fierce French team to earn an impressive win during Super Sunday at Sixways Stadium.
The senior game might not have been the performance England Head Coach Gary Street was looking for but certainly the result ticked the right box as England look to secure a sixth successive title and another Grand Slam.
Tries for England hooker Amy Garnett and skipper Katy McLean sealed the victory but England had to wait for them with both touchdowns in the last quarter of the game. Nevertheless, the reigning champions had looked in control for much of the game, but their downfull was not being able to turn possession into points.
Street, whose side is now the only unbeaten team in the Six Nations, said: “We were very sporadic today and we managed to squander quite a few opportunities. It was frustrating because we got ourselves into some good positions but we missed the try scoring opportunities. We lacked precision at times and that was disappointing.
“There’s lots for us to work on but the important thing is that we are still on track. We have now got a good focus for our game against Scotland and we know where the improvements need to be made.”
England looked dangerous from the off, but the tone they soon set for themselves followed them for much of the match. After just two minutes skipper McLean made a great break, catching France on the hop, but the tourists swarmed around England and dashed their try scoring hopes.
Worcester’s Danielle Waterman and Lichfield’s Emily Scarratt also came close in the opening quarter but France held firm while England paid for their errors in the final stages of their attacking play.
France had the first opportunity to put points on the board with a penalty after 26 minutes but Sandrine Agricole couldn’t convert. A second attempt, with Nadge Casenave taking over the kicking duties, was more successful and France took a 3-0 lead after 26 minutes.
McLean too had her chance at goal, missing a 35th minute effort but she made amends to equalise just minutes into injury time.
The Darlington Mowden Park Sharks fly half was back in action soon after the restart with a 49th minute shot at goal, and with the kick being successful England took a 6-3 lead.
England rang the changes on the pitch and replacements Garnett, Rachael Burford and Catherine Spence made an immediate impression. Burford came close to scoring, but again France’s defence held firm. Again, the chances were there for England but the rugby world cup finalists couldn’t finish off the opportunities.
England’s continuous pressure did pay off eventually though with Saracens’ hooker Garnett picking up from the back of a ruck and barging her way over the try line. McLean missed the penalty but England led 11-3 after 72 minutes.
McLean then rounded off proceedings for England with an injury time try. A ruck in the midfield saw England spin the ball out to the right wing and McLean found space to score the final touchdown. Again, she couldn’t make the conversion but 16-3 was enough to seal the win for England.
Meanwhile, the England young guns came back from a 5-0 deficit at half time to run in two tries and seal the victory. Tries for Bristol prop Sarah George and Saracens’ Hannah Gallagher did the damage for the U20s who’ll now be preparing for two fixtures against Scotland and Wales.
England U20s Coach Amanda Bennett said: “For us the important thing to achieve today was putting the performance in and if the win came with that then great. The win did come with the performance today so I am delighted.
“We were on the back-foot for the first quarter and France bullied us, but we showed great mental toughness and skill in the second half to come back and actually take control.
“We were up against a very physical and well drilled France team but our second half performance was good, we scored two good tries and we deserved the victory.”
On a rain soaked pitch France shook off any early cobwebs with some nice early breaks, and looked in control. They had the chance to take the lead early on with a penalty but wing Laura Delas couldn’t make the conversion.
Their chance came again in the opening quarter and the young French team this time took it with a try after 11 minutes. A well worked scrum saw their Number 8 Audrey Forlani pick up from the back of a ruck. She couldn’t get over, nor could their tight head prop but eventually hooker Milena Soloch barged her way over the line to score. Again Delas didn’t make the conversion leaving England 5-0 adrift.
And England couldn’t make up that deficit although they certainly did not lack the effort. Some good breaks, with England’s backrow especially in fine form, saw England push hard but they couldn’t put any points on the board and instead had to settle for playing catch up going into the second half.
The tide soon changed for England after the restart though with a well worked 42 minute try proving pivotal to the game’s final outcome. Some good early pressure saw skipper Harriet Mills make an impressive break. She came close to scoring under the posts but was held up just short. The ball was recycled out to the right and prop George found a gap to slice her way through France’s defence and score. With Ceri Large adding the conversion England took the lead for the first time.
England maintained that momentum and now started to dominate possession. Flanker Hannah Gallagher made a great break to gain space upfield but England this time couldn’t do anything with it.
France had the chance to retake the lead with a 63rd minute penalty but again Delas couldn’t make the kick, and instead England again took control.
France then lost Delas to the sin bin, and scrum half Fiona Davidson came close to scoring after a good scrum deep in France’s territory.
It was Gallagher, however, who put England out of reach with a 79th minute try. With England taking a quick penalty the powerhouse flanker, who enjoyed a storming game, barged her way over the try-line to score the decisive touchdown. Large missed the conversion, but it did not matter as England had done enough to secure the victory.