Source: INPHO

England March on

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Super-heavyweight title bout – Last Round

Attendance: 58,498, a new world record

Result: England 38 France 33
Player of the Match: Sadia Kabeya

A monumental occasion

The most heralded Six Nations game in history lived up to every expectation. England might have thought they had the game sewn up by half-time, but this was a crunch, so spectators were kept pinned to their seats till the 81st minute.

France ruled the roost through the opening phases; England’s back-three failed to heed ample warnings and twice had to chase back to deal with Jessy Trémoulière’s length of kick. The return. kicks were just what the French backs wanted, and for a period England seemed incapable of relieving the pressure.

As has been the pattern all tournament, England’s opponents couldn’t take their early opportunities. Here Trémoulière pulled a straightforward chance left of the posts. Then a dangerous raid ended with her knocking on.

It was to prove a less than auspicious last game for the Player of the (last) Decade in her swansong. As England mounted a dangerous counter, she stuck a hand out to intercept and was yellowed.

Cyrielle Banet leapt to collect a Bourdon chip to the corner off the bounce, but she couldn’t hold on. Tiny margins at work as usual.

England conceded three penalties in a row, but as France looked certain to go over, Hannah Botterman secured a turnover. How lucky that she was pronounced fit to play. Twice Holly Aitchison had to make short hasty clearances, such was the pressure.

Then suddenly Helena Rowland made a huge break through midfield. As the ball was reprocessed, it swung right to Abby Dow. There was no room for her to get through, but she got through, accelerated and the outcome was what we have to expect these days. Another astonishing score.

That was against the run of play. There was tension everywhere, not least in the crowd. But they cheered up when the Red Rose pack mounted a big scrum drive, Aitchison’s grubber didn’t work, but there now followed a curious sequence. Lark Davies’ throw-in was crooked, but Audrey Forlani opted for a scrum. Three minutes later Marlie Packer was driving over the line, after excellent work by Tatyana Heard.

But now England had their motor turning, and three more tries followed as France were forced to scramble.

First it was Alex Matthews driving over after controlling the ball at a fast moving scrum, then it was Zoe Aldcroft’s turn to show her footwork and complete another mesmerising move.

It was a typical pattern for this championship: France had seemed all over the hosts, but they were scoreless and leaking tries. A penalty try was accompanied by a yellow card for Rose Bernadou. For a short while it was 15 v 13, a sight that is becoming all too common in the game.

By the break the Red Roses had put the game to bed, 33-0 to the good. The Sugababes didn’t need to lift the vast crowd.

But some of them may have forgotten who the opponents were. The second half took a completely different slant. Were England growing complacent, or were the French even more intent on righting wrongs? A bit of both, probably,

The game unfolded uncannily like the one in Doncaster four years ago: France finding their form rather late, and turning on a real show. Trémoulière made up for previous shortcomings by feeding Emile Boulard for a first try on the left, then Gabrielle Vernier offered another glimpse of her class with a brilliant break and shimmy to cross unopposed.

It was just as well that Davies completed a try from a rolling maul, because les Bleues weren’t done. In the last quarter they added no fewer than three tries though Charlotte Escudero, Emeline Gros and Banet. It’s one of the less pleasant feelings a team can have, seeing a mountainous lead narrow remorselessly. The one thing in England’s favour was time. As Carla Arbez converted that Banet try (in off), 81 minutes were showing on the clock.

To show how the balance of power had shifted, at a late stage France had a territorial advantage of 80-20. They had clawed their way back to a 5-point deficit, like so many results over the past five seasons, nail-bitingly close. Five tries each.

Still, England completed their fifth consecutive Grand Slam, a fitting conclusion to the distinguished careers of Simon Middleton and Scott Bemand.

Despite all the injury calls suffered over the past months, the Red Roses have still managed to field winning teams. Today, for example, they were without such stalwarts as Emily Scarratt, Leanne Infante, Vickii Cornborough and Amy Cokayne.

Now for the WXV.



15. Ellie Kildunne, 14. Abby Dow, 13. Helena Rowland, 12. Tatyana Heard, 11. Claudia MacDonald, 10. Holly Aitchison, 9. Lucy Packer, 1. Hannah Botterman, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Sarah Bern, 4. Zoe Aldcroft, 5. Sarah Beckett, 6. Sadia Kabeya, 7. Marlie Packer (captain), 8. Alex Matthews


16. Connie Powell, 17. Mackenzie Carson, 18. Maud Muir, 19. Poppy Cleall, 20. Morwenna Talling, 21. Natasha Hunt, 22. Amber Reed, 23. Jess Breach


15 Emilie Boulard, 14 Cyrielle Banet, 13 Marine Ménager, 12 Gabrielle Vernier, 11 Mélissande Llorens, 10 Jessy Trémoulière, 9 Pauline Bourdon, 1 Ylana Brosseau, 2 Agathe Sochat, 3 Rose Bernadou, 4 Manaé Feleu, 5 Audrey Forlani (captain), 6 Axelle Berthoumieu, 7 Gaëlle Hermet, 8 Charlotte Escudero


16 Elisa Riffoneau, 17 Ambre Mwayembe, 18 Assia Khalfaoui, 19 Romane Ménager
Manaé Feleu, 20 Emeline Gros, 21 Alexandra Chambon, 22 Carla Arbez, 23 Maëlle Filopon


Referee: Aimee Barrett-Theron (SARU)
Assistant Referees: Lauren Jenner (FIR) and Maria Heitor (PORT)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (WRU)
(Interesting to note that Lauren Jenner is now officially credited to FIR, not NZR); she lives in Italy

Final Table

                                      W​      L​       Pts

England​​​                        5         0        28
France                          4        ​ 1         21
Wales ​​                          3         2        15
Scotland      ​​                 2         3        10
Italy                               1         4         4
Ireland    ​​                      0         5         0  ​


This was a momentous occasion on so many counts: the largest gate ever for a women’s rugby match; Simon Middleton’s final fling; Jessy Trémoulière on show for the last time; France’s twelfth attempt to wrest victory from English hands; England’s No 1 ranking at stake; warning signs on surrounding roads of delays ahead (previously seen exclusively for men’s internationals).

Two signal events took place before the match: a most moving speech by the great Gill Burns as she unveiled the first women’s honours board at Twickenham. Tears were the order of the day.

Then along with the shirt presentation, a heartfelt tribute to the two retiring coaches, Simon Middleton and Scott Bemand. Sarah Hunter was on hand to do the honours.

You could say the game took the women’s Six Nations into the Big Time.

The result conserves England’s narrow hold on first place in world rankings which stood pre-match at a bare 1.10 points ahead of New Zealand.

The crowd was vast and enthusiastic in the spring sunshine. The RFU’s task now is to ensure the the top tier of the stadium is filled as well when the World Cup comes calling in 2025. The leap from the first 5-figure crowd at Exeter (versus Italy) in 2019 to the near 60k present today shows a quite astonishing rise in popularity.

England extend their unbeaten 6N record to 24 matches and 12 crunches in a row.

France’s wait goes on. The FFR made significant changes to the management, but the new faces still couldn’t turn the tables. Some of their selections were tricky to read from the wrong side of the Channel, not least the decisive demotion of Gaëlle Hermet from the captaincy and the starting 15. She finished this game covered in glory. Likewise placing Romane Ménager on the bench. No doubt an internal review will pose those and similar questions.