The Red Roses survived a France fight-back to make history at Twickenham
Twenty years after England women made their Twickenham debut, the Red Roses won a fifth successive Women’s Six Nations title and back-to-back Grand Slam at the home of English rugby.
Marching to the beat of a record breaking 58,498- strong crowd, and the Sugababes, England clinched a 38-33 victory over France in the latest historic episode of Le Crunch.
This occasion also marked England women’s first standalone Test at Twickenham and the end of Simon Middleton’s eight-year stint as head coach.
They didn’t quite run riot from the start as the nerves seemed to show for the home side. Les Bleues continuously camped out in England’s half for the opening twenty minutes but the defensive excellence and counter-rucking prowess of the Roses shone through captain Marlie Packer and the pack.
Both sides had a point to prove in this Grand Slam decider. England entered the tournament off the back of World Cup final heartbreak last year, while France looked to end their five year England hoodoo.
But it was the top ranked side in the world that would make the first shot.
Just before the eighteen minute mark Abby Dow was unleashed by Claudia MacDonald and the winger danced down the outside channel and over to break the deadlock. Then the flood gates opened.
Middleton’s side were widely criticised in the World Cup for their unimaginative play and reliance on tries launched from the set-piece. If that version of England existed then, it certainly didn’t in this showdown.
Showcasing some free-flowing rugby, Marlie Packer roared over under the posts from a brilliant Tatyana Heard break in the latter stage of the first half, followed shortly after by a try from Alex Matthews.
A series of French errors including yellow cards for international retiree Jessy Trémoulière and prop Rose Bernadou allowed England to stretch their legs further, resulting in a penalty try and a Zoe Aldcroft score to end the first half.
France try spoil the party but England hold on
The visitors certainly came out kicking after the break and asserted their hunger for the Grand Slam. Tries from Émile Boulard and Gabrielle Vernier cropped up as Les Bleues executed their skills well and stretched the English defence.
Vernier in particular showed incredible work rate and individual effort with a snipe at the breakdown which opened the door for her to keep the scoreboard ticking.
In a tense final 20, France continued to gather momentum. England edged away as hooker Lark Davies hit back from a classic Roses maul, but two further tries were secured by France leading joint-head coach Gaelle Mignot to breathe a sigh of relief.
A final try from France ended the tournament but it was all too late. England’s Grand Slam was sealed on a historic day.
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