The Red Roses clinched their third consecutive Women’s Six Nations title after beating France Women 10-6 at The Stoop.
Simon Middleton’s charges overcame Scotland and Italy earlier in the competition before registering a solitary try and penalty against Les Bleues at the home of Harlequins, their eighth successive win over France, and fourteenth without loss in the tournament.
The visitors started strongly, disrupting England’s set piece early on and dictating the physicality with dominant defence. Second row Safi N’Diaye and scrum half Laure Sansus proved the brightest sparks in the opening quarter, complementing each other well in broken play.
England struggled to impose their usual dominance upfront, and two uncharacteristic missed penalties from Emily Scarratt was followed by her withdrawal from the field for a HIA on the 20-minute mark.
During her absence, France explored width and showcased sharp offloading to surge deep into England’s territory, though from a resulting penalty fly half Caroline Drouin was also unsuccessful with a three-pointer.
Scarratt returned to the field seven minutes from the break and converted the game’s opening try – a close range Poppy Cleall effort on the stroke of half time – to hand the hosts a 7-0 lead.
Drouin bagged France’s first points of the Test at the resumption, reducing the deficit to four.
With set piece problems continuing Amy Cokayne was introduced to the fray, as was Sarah Hunter – to earn her 125th cap – and although England’s scrum steadied, the inaccuracies in open play continued.
Despite their problems in attack, the Red Roses held firm in defence and repelled each wave of French runner, with Marlie Packer, Zoe Aldcroft and Cath O’Donnell leading the charge.
With eight minutes remaining Drouin converted her second penalty to make it a one-point game, but undeterred, the Red Roses held onto possession and forced a penalty of their own at the other end. Scarratt sent it over to make it 10-6 securing the victory.
The two sides meet again next Friday in Lillie, in their Women’s Six Nations Exhibition Match (30 April, KO 2000 and live on BBC iPlayer).
Head coach Simon Middleton said: “It was a really tough game between two very physical sides.
“I don’t think there was any point where Annick (Hayraud) or I thought we were going to be alright in this game. I felt that bringing our finishers on could ultimately be the difference.
“Our side has character and there’s different types of character. Our side is a really tough side to beat. We’ve been under pressure for long periods of that game and that was a nerve wracking game all the way through. We kept in the fight, we defended really well and went toe-to-toe with a brilliant side so that was really good to see.
“I’m really proud of our efforts and am delighted for the whole squad that we’ve managed to secure another Six Nations title and hopefully put a smile on the faces of everyone watching at home.”
Player of the Match Zoe Aldcroft said: “It means so much, we’ve trained so hard since January and I think all that has paid off today, we worked hard for the full 80 minutes which is what we spoke about. We could have been more physical in the first half, but in the end we did it when it mattered. It is always a battle when we play France, credit to them today, they played well.”
Emily Scarratt added: “Ultimately the aim was to win the Six Nations and we’ve managed to do that, sometimes it doesn’t need to be big flamboyant score lines, it wasn’t our best performance but our defence was unreal at times against a side that scores for fun. Really proud of the effort.”
15. Sarah McKenna, 14. Jess Breach, 13. Emily Scarratt (c), 12. Zoe Harrison, 11. Abby Dow, 10. Helena Rowland, 9. Leanne Riley, 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Shaunagh Brown, 4. Abbie Ward, 5. Cath O’Donnell, 6. Zoe Aldcroft, 7. Marlie Packer, 8. Poppy Cleall.
16. Amy Cokayne, 17. Detysha Harper, 18. Bryony Cleall, 19. Harriet Millar-Mills, 20. Sarah Hunter, 21. Claudia MacDonald, 22. Lagi Tuima, 23. Ellie Kildunne.
15. Emilie Boulard, 14. Cyrielle Banet, 13. Carla Neisen, 12. Jade Ulutule, 11. Caroline Boujard, 10. Caroline Drouin, 9. Laure Sansus, 1. Annaëlle Deshaye, 2. Agathe Sochat, 3. Rose Bernadou, 4. Madoussou Fall, 5. Safi N’Diaye, 6. Marjorie Mayans, 7. Gaëlle Hermet (c), 8. Romane Ménager.
16. Laure Touyé, 17. Maïlys Traoré, 18. Clara Joyeux, 19. Lenaïg Corson, 20. Coumba Diallo, 21. Pauline Bourdon, 22. Morgane Peyronnet, 23. Jessy Trémoulière.
Fixtures and results
Red Roses 52 – 10 Scotland
Italy 3 – 67 Red Roses
Red Roses 10 – 6 France
Friday 30 April: France v Red Roses (2000 BST) – Villeneuve d’Ascq, Lille.
Courtesy of the RFU