England continued their successful start to the World Cup with a tight victory against a determined France.
Injuring stars Laure Sansus and Romane Manager forced France to forfeit the match, and Emily Scarratt of England scored the game’s first try at Whangarei, New Zealand.
Before France raised a concern with Gaelle Hermet’s cross, Scarratt added penalties on either side of halftime.
The 13-7 victory by tournament favorites England would certainly qualify them for the quarterfinals as the Pool C victors.
With her 137th outing for her country, captain Sarah Hunter surpassed another player for the most appearances for England.
England has not lost since July 2019 and last week smashed Fiji 84-19 in their opening match, extending their record winning streak to 27 Tests.
The tight outcome of this game serves as a sobering reminder to England supporters that France and New Zealand, two other professional teams, will pose tougher competition in the tournament’s later rounds.
However, the Red Roses showed they can handle the stress of a close match against a title challenger in France.
England break down the steely France defence
The match lived up to expectations as one of the most intensely contested and high-caliber contests of the World Cup as England’s clinical effort faced off against a strong France defense.
The statistics made clear the level of competition France provided in the first half. Despite holding 73% of the ball and 69% of the territory, England only managed to score 10 points against France’s tiring 127 tackles.
Since Thomas Darracq was appointed to lead France in May, England’s head coach Simon Middleton claimed that he had identified areas of weakness to concentrate on, and England appeared eager to pelt France’s backfield with kicks.
Fly-half Zoe Harrison performed admirably as she constantly tested France with her boot, frequently resulting in balls being dropped.
Other than that, France had a promising start, but two of its important players were ejected from the game, which diminished their momentum.
Scrum-half After number eight Manager seemed to be knocked out in a ruck, Census left the game with a leg injury. Hermet, the regular captain, took over for Manager, and her partner Pauline Bourdon took over for Census.
Lock Abbie Ward was stopped over the try line as France’s defense continued to frustrate England’s attackers inside their 22. After 24 minutes, England finally turned around and the center was over thanks to a clever move between Harrison and Scarratt.
Scarratt decided to take three points when France was penalized for a breakdown in front of the posts, giving England a 10-0 advantage at halftime.
Hermet try sets up a frantic finish
After the break, England seemed confident and appeared to have broken down France’s scrum.
Harrison’s chip was scooped up by Claudia MacDonald before Scarratt, in a rare error, spilled the ball forward, leaving Middleton with his head in his hands.
The French center Maelle Filopon stripped the ball from Sarah Bern as she crossed the try-line for England, but England regained momentum from the scrum once more. England chose not to deploy the line-out drive they have used so frequently over the past year, despite dominating the forwards.
Instead, Amy Cokayne was delayed as she crossed the field when Marlie Packer peeled off the side of a maul and passed the ball to her.
In the absence of any tries, Scarratt added three more points from in front of the posts, giving England the impression that they had won. France suddenly gained momentum. Joanna Grisez pounced on a beautiful cross-field kick from Caroline Drouin and put Hermet over.
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Despite an 11th straight victory over France, the tense conclusion demonstrated England’s vulnerability in this World Cup.
On October 23, they play South Africa in their last group match; on October 22, France plays Fiji.
Player of the match
France: Jacquet; Grisez, Filopon, Vernier, Boulard; Drouin, Sansus; Deshaye, Sochat, Joyeux, Ferer (capt), Fall, Escudero, Mayans, R Menager.
Replacements: Touye, Lindelauf, Khalfaoui, N’Diaye, Hermet, Bourdon, Queyroi, M Menager.
England: Kildunne; Thompson, Scarratt, Rowland, MacDonald; Harrison, Infante; Cornborough, Cokayne, Bern, Aldcroft, Ward, Matthews, M Packer, Hunter (capt).
Replacements: Powell, Botterman, Muir, O’Donnell, Cleall, L Packer, Aitchison, Dow.