England's Ellie Kildunne goes over the line to score their sides third try in a great win over France at Twickenham

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  • England 25 – 23 France 

This is what professionalism looks like. Trailing 10-18 with twenty minutes left, England were so second-best that head coach Simon Middleton threw on his entire bench to try and steady a sinking ship. 

It worked. Eight pairs of fresh legs collectively bludgeoned a fiery French side into the Twickenham turf, scoring 15 points in the space of 11 minutes as they transformed a mediocre side into a dominant one.

Their talismanic centre, Emily Scarratt, was among the fresh blood. She converted Ellie Kildunne’s last-gasp try before slotting a penalty through the uprights after the clock went dead to ensure her side’s seventh consecutive win over France. It was a pulsating end to a thrilling contest which had the drama of a World Cup final. 

That it was captured on primetime Saturday lunchtime TV on BBC 2 during a national lockdown, is likely to rope in a few casual fans to the women’s game and strengthen the case for showcasing more women’s international rugby on free-to-air television.

Following their emphatic 33-10 in Grenoble last week, Middleton had talked up the importance of France remaining in touching distance of his side, who have been drawn in England’s group for next year’s World Cup in New Zealand. Boy, did they get a shock. 

Emily Scarratt kicks the winning penalty to break French hearts

Credit: AP

Even after Scarratt and co entered the fray, England couldn’t stop the rot, as Cecilie Banet dived over for her second score of the game and France’s third. Leading 23-10, Annick Hayraud’s side must have thought they were on their way to a first victory over England since February 2018. 

Buoyed by the return of their leg-busting lock Safi N’Diaye, they flew out of the blocks and put an experimental England outfit onto the back foot. They dragged the Red Roses’ defence from side to side and won every 50-50 contest, as England became a victim of their own set-pieces. Lark Davies’ arrowed the ball over everyone’s heads in a lineout five metres out from England’s own tryline, which led to Emeline Gros pouncing over for France’s first to cancel out Zoe Harrison’s earlier score. 

The visitors’ second was even better, when full-back Shannon Izar went on a dizzying run from inside her own half, before switching the ball inside to Cyrielle Barnet who backed herself against Ellie Kildunne as France went in at the break on cloud nine, leading 15-5. In truth, they should have had even a healthier advantage, had fly-half Caroline Drouin tucked away her early penalty which ultimately cost France the game. 

Even their defensive astuteness made England look average. Having spilled possession on their first two entries into French territory early on, the Red Roses pressed for a response after Izar’s moment of magic, but Les Bleues held their nerve, with N’Diaye and Lauren Sansus tag-teaming to hold Shaunagh Brown up on the line. 

Even Lark Davies’ score after the break did little to swing the momentum, which only happened when England steamrolled their way over the French line with one of their trademark driving mauls from a line-out, with Poppy Cleall crashing over in the 69th minute to ignite the comeback. Harrison’s conversion miss simply extended England’s task at hand, but by now they were very much a different beast. 

Minutes later, Ellie Kildunne looked straddled some 10 metres out from France’s line but was supported by Claudia Macdonald, who helped propel the sevens-cum-fifteens star through a sea of blue shirts to scamper over for another score. This time Scarratt was handed the tee, and reduced the deficit to one point with seven minutes to spare. 

It was too long a timeframe for France who were running out of answers as England came at them again and patiently built the phases with an aura of calmness that typified why they are ranked No.1 in the world right now, perhaps knowing that a penalty would see them home and dry. It came in the dying minutes, and Scarratt, who became England’s all-time leading points scorer earlier this year, broke French hearts. 

Match details 

Scoring sequence: 0-3 Drouin pen, 5-3 Harrison try, 5-8 Gros try, 5-10 Barnet try, 5-15 Drouin con, 10-15 Davies try, 10-18 Drouin pen, 10-23 Barnet try, 15-23 Cleall try, 20-23 Kildunne try, 22-23 Scarratt con, 25-23, Scarratt pen. 

England: E Kildunne, C Macdonald, L Tuima (Scarratt, 59), Z Harrison, A Dow, K Daley-McLean (Rowland, 59), L Riley (Hunt, 59), V Cornborough (Cokayne, 59) L Davies, S Brown (Keates, 59), A Ward, M Talling (Perry 59) H Millar-Mills (Packer, 59), A Matthews (Beckett, 59), P Cleall. 

France: S Izar, C Banet, E Pignot, J Ulutele, C Bertrand (Tremouliere 55), C Drouin; L Sansus (Bourdon, 63), A Deshaye (Traoré, 62), A Sochat (Menager, 55), R Bernadou (Joyeux, 62), C Ferer, S N’Diaye (Diallo 65), M Mayans, G Hermet, E  Gros. 

Referee: Hollie Davison (SRU)