England end 2020 unbeaten after a comeback victory over the French at Twickenham

Emily Scarratt penalty secures dramatic win over France

A last-minute penalty from Emily Scarratt gave England a dramatic 25-23 victory over France at Twickenham.

The French had led 23-10 going into the last 15 minutes but the Red Roses staged a remarkable comeback to ensure they finished 2020 with seven wins from seven Tests – and extend their winning run to ten Internationals going back more than a year.

It is also England’s seventh straight Test win over France, their closest European rivals who they will also play at the 2021 World Cup having both been drawn in Pool C.

This performance was far from the convincing displays England showed in winning the Six Nations Grand Slam or even in beating France 33-10 last weekend, but the team did show grit and determination to come back and triumph.

“With the character of the side, they found a way to win,” said England coach Simon Middleton. “That game was nowhere near what we’d have liked it to be, how we wanted it to pan out. That’s international rugby, it’s not always how you want it to be. We’ll learn a lot more from that than winning easy or staying in front.”

France put England under huge pressure at the set-piece in the first half, a penalty for the visitors from a scrum in the second minute a sign of things to come. The Red Roses’ error count was also extremely high, with knock-ons and loose passes preventing them from building through the phases.

England did score the first try, though, Zoe Harrison going over in the 17th minute after a fortuitous bounce of the ball…

That gave England a 5-3 lead but the French scored two tries of their own before the break.

The first came five minutes after the hosts’ try, an England overthrow at a lineout five metres from their own line giving France possession. France switched their attack to the blindside, creating an overlap for Emeline Gros, who handed off Katy Daley-Mclean to score.

It was their second try, just before the half-time whistle, that was the highlight of the opening 40. France launched an attack from inside their own half from a Daley-Mclean kick, Shannon Izar receiving the ball in the middle of the field, taking it wide and then running a switch inside to Cyrielle Banet, who broke clear and went over despite the tackle of Ellie Kildunne.

Banet was then sin-binned early in the second period for using her boot on Vickii Cornborough’s shoulder. The referee was originally going to red card the wing before recognising the mitigation of Cornborough holding Banet’s leg to keep her in the breakdown.

From that penalty, England opted for a five-metre lineout and at the third attempt (they were awarded two further penalties for maul infringements) they drove over the line with Lark Davies touching down for the try.

Still, after England couldn’t make a five-minute spell in possession count, the French defence standing firm, Middleton emptied his bench midway through the second half, with all eight replacements coming on at once.

At the double: Cyrielle Banet scored two tries for France at Twickenham (Getty Images)

Then Banet struck again. France got their maul rolling from a lineout on the 22, edged forward and across the pitch through a series of strong carries before Banet went over in the corner. France had a 23-10 lead going into the final 15 minutes and looked like having the mentality to close it out.

Then England came back. First Poppy Cleall reduced the deficit when she touched down from a strong driving maul in the 70th minute. Then Kildunne went over, hitting a good line in the 22 and having the power (with a little help from Claudia MacDonald) to stay on her feet and burst through a huddle of French defenders to score. Emily Scarratt’s conversion made it a one-point game going into the last five minutes.

When Coumba Diallo stole an England lineout five metres out from the French line it looked like the visitors would hold on for the win. But England came again, patiently worked the phases and when that final penalty was awarded – for not rolling away – Scarratt duly stepped up to slot it.

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