The Red Roses have reached the World Cup final after overcoming a strong French side 20 – 3.
On a wet evening in Belfast, the two Six Nations opponents traded early blows, but it was the French who got off to the best start, putting the Red Roses under immense pressure in their own half. However, the English defence held firm and kept France out.
For all their defensive efforts, England scored the first points when Emily Scarratt kicked a penalty after the French were penalised at the breakdown.
France hit back with a penalty of their own after Marlie Packer went too high in the tackle, and as the sides left the field for half time it was all square at 3 – 3, although England would be slightly happier with that scoreline than the French.
In the second half, the Red Roses enjoyed more possession and their backs began to show their attacking prowess.
They were rewarded for their pressure with another penalty practically in front of the posts and Scarratt made no mistake, putting England into the lead.
And a few minutes later they broke through the French defence to score the first try of the match. After a series of pick-and-drives got England close to the French line, scrum-half Natasha Hunt fired the pass out to Sarah Bern, who, with the help of a couple of other forwards, powered over the line. Scarratt converted and suddenly England had a ten point lead.
But France were not beaten yet, and when flanker Annery went over in the corner they thought they were back in the game. However, the TMO review showed that Meg Jones had put in a fantastic tackle and just got the French player’s foot into touch; the English defence had kept the French out once more.
That seemed to knock the French psychologically, and they never looked like mounting a comeback in the remaining minutes.
England upped their attacking intensity, pinning France in their own half and subjecting them to wave after wave of attack, and that pressure finally paid dividends when France, more in hope than expectation, tried to play from behind their own line. A loose pass was pounced on by Meg Jones who touched down to score, and with Scarratt kicking the conversion, the Red Roses added some panache to the scoreline.
As the final whistle blew, England celebrated and they head into the World Cup final against New Zealand full of confidence after a fine defensive display.
England 20 (3)
Tries: Bern, Jones Conversions: Scarratt (2) Penalties: Scarratt (2)
France 3 (3)
POTM: While many England players enhanced their reputations in this match, young prop Sarah Bern outshone them all. She made 14 tackles, the second highest total in the England team, and was fearsome in attack. As well as being strong, she is deceptively quick and as a former back-rower, knows how to pick a running line. It was her try which finally broke the deadlock, and she helped stop another, holding up French flanker Annery just inches from the line – a fine display from a player who is just 20 years of age.
What a game. And what a performance from the Red Roses. They’ve had a relatively easy few games in the pool rounds, but France are a different beast entirely. Back in the Six Nations, the French caught England cold and were 13 – 0 up at half-time. They tried the same tactic again this match, but this time the Red Roses were ready for it and their defence in that first period was exceptional.
And when they had the upper hand they didn’t let up. They were accurate and direct in attack, their passes crisp and to-hand, and this allowed them to build the phases and really pressurise the French defence until they cracked.
While every member of the England team impressed, it was youngsters Sarah Bern and Meg Jones who proved the difference. Both of them put in try-saving tackles and then scored tries, proving that the future looks very bright for English rugby.
Now, onto the final, and a formidable opponent awaits the Red Roses. The Black Ferns have been in superb form so far in this tournament, and as the newly reinstated No. 1 team in the world will be looking to prove themselves and become world champions. But the Red Roses know that they’ve beaten them before, just two months ago. And the way the defending champions are playing, they’ve certainly got it in them to beat New Zealand again.