Scarratt seals Red Roses win over France
Emily Scarratt landed a penalty in overtime to secure a 25-23 win for England over France Women at Twickenham.
Simon Middleton’s side scored 15 points in the final 10 minutes to steal victory from Les Bleues, ending their 2020 unbeaten, and cementing their position as the number one team in the world.
France controlled the opening stages of the game, dictating territory and forcing penalties inside England’s 22. Despite dragging her first effort at goal wide, fly half Caroline Drouin capitalised on her second attempt to give the visitors a 3-0 lead on the 11-minute mark.
The Red Roses struck back five minutes later though, as Zoe Harrison took advantage of a bouncing pass from Leanne Riley, scooping it up and cantering in from 15 metres, diving into the south stand corner.
A surprise score from Emeline Gros put France in the ascendancy, before a length of the field try on the stroke of half-time was finished off by wing Cyrielle Banet. Drouin’s extras gave France a 10-point lead at the break.
Banet went from hero to villain just two minutes into the second half, as a TMO review showed her kicking Vickii Cornborough. The yellow card and resulting penalty provided the platform from which England got back in the game; a trademark rolling maul seeing Lark Davies over.
Drouin claimed her eighth point of the match after 50 minutes with a pinpoint penalty, before the sides shared a period of constant phase play. England threw everything at the French, but their defence stood strong.
Middleton unloaded his entire bench on the hour mark, but it wasn’t enough to shift initial match momentum, as a second Banet try extended the visitors' lead to 13 points.
But England staged a late comeback with 10 minutes left on the clock, first Poppy Cleall crossing for her 14th Test try off the back of another rolling maul. Two minutes later Ellie Kildunne powered over, and Scarratt’s extras made it a one-point game.
Then the Red Roses battered away at the French line in the dying seconds of the game and forced an 80th minute penalty - up stepped Scarratt to slot it and confirm a two-point win.
The Red Roses are now on a seven-match winning streak against France and have won 11 of the last 12 meetings.
Head coach Simon Middleton said: "We had to show our character and resilience today.
“The team found a way to win. The game was nowhere near where we’d have liked it to have been in terms of how we wanted it to pan out. That’s international rugby. It’s not always how you want it to be.
“What it’s about then is how you adapt and find ways. This group found a way today which is amazing. We’ll learn more from that than winning easy or even staying in front all the way through a game.
“Credit to France, they played a really strong game.
“We train really hard as a group.
“The starting group did well for 60 minutes against a very strong opponent but started to fatigue and our replacements did a great job when they came on. We played as a squad and got the job done.
“It’s great to end the year with a win.”
Katy Daley-Mclean added: "We have had some battles with those girls but that was one of the best performances from a France side I can remember.
"We showed great character and I am really proud of our girls.
"The intensity with which France started caused us a lot of problems.
"I think our winning edge and mentality is going to be important.
"As much as it wasn't pretty, it's still a win in our column, which is crucial heading into a World Cup year."
15. Ellie Kildunne, 14. Claudia MacDonald, 13. Lagi Tuima, 12. Zoe Harrison, 11. Abby Dow, 10. Katy Daley-Mclean, 9. Leanne Riley; 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Lark Davies, 3. Shaunagh Brown, 4. Abbie Ward, 5. Morwenna Talling, 6. Harriet Millar-Mills, 7. Alex Matthews, 8. Poppy Cleall.
16. Amy Cokayne, 17. Ellena Perry, 18. Laura Keates, 19. Sarah Beckett, 20. Marlie Packer, 21. Natasha Hunt, 22. Helena Rowland, 23. Emily Scarratt.
1. Deshaye, 2. Sochat, 3. Bernadou, 4. Ferer, 5. N'Diaye, 6. Mayans, 7. Hermet (c), 8. Gros, 9. Sansus, 10. Drouin, 11. Bertrand, 12. Ulutule, 13. Pignot, 14. Banet, 15. Izar
16. Touye, 17. Traore, 18. Joyeux, 19. Diallo, 20. Menager, 21. Bourdon, 22. Peyronnet, 23. Tremouliere