The Red Roses defeated France 19-13 as they opened the 2020 Women’s Six Nations with a victory.
Heading into the game at Stade du Hameau in Pau, England were on a four-match winning streak against France and started the defence of their title with an important victory – their first in the Six Nations in France since 2012.
It was the Red Roses who dominated possession and territory in the early stages and were rewarded when slick hands fed wing Abby Dow to cross for her 11th try in 10 Tests.
A driving maul from a five-metre lineout got England’s second as Vicky Fleetwood dotted down on 19 minutes, Emily Scarratt converting, but with their first meaningful attack France were on the board when a powerful run from Romane Ménager saw her offload to Laure Sansus to go over.
Les Bleues grew into the half and Jessy Trémoulière’s penalty meant the match sat finely poised at 12-10 to the Red Roses at the break.
After replacement Sarah Bern had a try disallowed for obstruction, France spent time attacking the England line with some superb defence keeping them out.
England did eventually get the first points on the second half as Women’s World Rugby Player of the Year Scarratt hit a wonderful line off an Amber Reed offload to race in from 40 metres, and convert her own try.
Trémoulière’s second penalty got France within six points with six minutes to go but England held out for the win.
Although England started the match the stronger of the two teams they had large spells in defence on their own line where they managed to keep France out.
There were two spells in particular in the second half which epitomised the defensive effort in between Scarratt’s try that ultimately helped England open the tournament with a win.
The forwards were on the backfoot at scrum time, but around the park they fronted to their defensive duties to keep the French to just one try.
Harlequins Women prop Vickii Cornborough reached her half century of England caps having come on in the 49th minute. Having made her debut in 2015, she has been a mainstay in the pack for the past four years.
Making her first steps in Test rugby at the age of 19, Loughborough Lightning flanker Amelia Harper came on for her debut in the back row in the second half of the game after only taking up rugby four years ago.
There was also a return for Wasps FC Ladies forward Harriet Millar-Mills who had not appeared for England since the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup final, having spent 22 months out with injury having had three knee surgeries.
Head coach Simon Middleton: “It was intense – I think the phrase we’ve been using quite a bit is proper Test match.
“We were absolutely fantastic in the first 25 minutes of the game where we did everything that we wanted to do and we did a great job of dominating the field position and keeping the crowd under control.
“France are an exceptional side and you’re never going to dominate them for a full game and as soon as they got a foothold it became a real fight.
“I thought we showed some great character defensively in that second half in particular and then we came out of it on the right side.”
On Cornborough’s 50th cap: “It is thoroughly deserved, she is such a professional player and so diligent about everything she does. She’s got a very clear thought process and it was great to have her back as well as Harriet Millar-Mills.”
15. Jessy Trémoulière, 14. Caroline Boujard, 13. Camille Boudaud, 12. Gabrielle Vernier, 11. Cyrielle Banet, 10. Pauline Bourdon, 9. Laure Sansus; 1. Lise Arricastre, 2. Agathe Sochat, 3. Annaëlle Deshaye, 4. Audrey Forlani, 5. Madoussou Fall, 6. Céline Férer, 7. Gaëlle Hermet (C), 8. Romane Ménager.
16. Caroline Thomas, 17. Maïlys Traoré, 18. Clara Joyeux, 19. Safi N’Diaye, 20. Julie Annery, 21. Morgane Peyronnet, 22. Nassira Kondé, 23. Marine Ménager.
15. Sarah McKenna, 14. Abby Dow, 13. Emily Scarratt (VC), 12. Zoe Harrison, 11. Jess Breach, 10. Katy Daley-McLean, 9. Natasha Hunt; 1. Hannah Botterman, 2. Amy Cokayne, 3. Shaunagh Brown, 4. Poppy Cleall, 5. Zoe Aldcroft, 6. Sarah Beckett, 7. Vicky Fleetwood, 8. Sarah Hunter (C).
16. Lark Davies, 17. Vickii Cornborough, 18. Sarah Bern, 19. Harriet Millar-Mills, 20. Amelia Harper, 21. Leanne Riley, 22. Amber Reed, 23. Emily Scott.
Round one: France Women 13-19 Red Roses
Round two: Sunday 9 February – Scotland Women v Red Roses
Scotstoun Stadium, Glasgow (KO 1220 GMT, Sky Sports Action and Mix)
Round three: Sunday 23 February – Red Roses v Ireland Women
Castle Park, Doncaster (KO 1245 GMT, Sky Sports Action)
Round four: Saturday 7 March – Red Roses v Wales Women
Twickenham Stoop, London (KO 1205 GMT, Sky Sports Action and Mix)
Round five: Sunday 15 March – Italy Women v Red Roses
Stadio Plebiscito, Padova (KO 1330 GMT, Sky Sports Action and Mix)
Courtesy of the RFU