Warriors Women’s Alex Matthews and Laura Keates helped the Red Roses secure a tense 25-23 victory over France at Twickenham in the second of a two-Test series.
Matthews, who occupied the openside flanker berth, played an hour of the contest, before the bench was emptied with Keates among those coming on for the last quarter.
Emily Scarratt’s penalty in overtime ultimately ensured the win as Simon Middleton’s side came from 15-5 down at the break to clinch victory from Les Bleus, ending 2020 unbeaten and cement their position as the number one team in the world.
France controlled the opening stages of the game, dictating territory and forcing penalties inside England’s 22. Despite dragging her first effort at goal wide, fly-half Caroline Drouin capitalised on her second attempt to give the visitors a 3-0 lead on the 11 minutes.
The Red Roses struck back five minutes later as Zoe Harrison took advantage of a bouncing pass from Leanne Riley, scooping up the ball and cantering in from 15 metres to dive into the south stand corner.
A surprise score from Emeline Gros put France in the ascendancy, before a length of the field try on the stroke of half-time was finished off by wing Cyrielle Banet. Drouin’s extras gave France a 10-point lead at the break.
Banet went from hero to villain just two minutes into the second half, as a TMO review showed her kicking Vickii Cornborough. The yellow card and resulting penalty provided the platform from which England got back in the game – a trademark rolling maul seeing Lark Davies over.
Drouin claimed her eighth point of the match after 50 minutes with a pinpoint penalty, before the sides shared a period of constant phase play. England threw everything at the French, but their defence stood strong.
Middleton unloaded his entire bench on the hour mark, but it wasn’t enough to shift initial match momentum, as a second Banet try extended the visitor’s lead to 13 points.
But England staged a late comeback with 10 minutes left on the clock, first Poppy Cleall crossing for her 14th Test try off the back of another rolling maul. Two minutes later Ellie Kildunne powered over, and Scarratt’s extras made it a one-point game.
Then the Red Roses battered away at the French line in the dying seconds of the game and forced an 80th minute penalty. Up stepped Scarratt to slot it and confirm a two-point win.
The Red Roses are now on a seven-match winning streak against France and have won 11 of the last 12 meetings.