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England 25-23 France
by David Nicholson
A LAST-GASP Emily Scarratt penalty saw the world’s number-one team scrape victory over a much-improved French side on Saturday.
The Twickenham match was arranged after England’s southern-hemisphere tour fell through.
The game took on important bragging rights when the two sides were drawn in the same World Cup pool last week.
But England head coach Simon Middleton fielded a very new starting XV to begin the planning cycle for next year’s tournament, and France came very close to pruning the Red Roses on their patch for the first time since 2015.
For much of this match England looked ponderous as their set-piece ball at the line-out and scrum misfired.
France were sharper in attack, with winger Coralie Bertrand a stand-out player.
But shortly before half time it was fellow winger Cyrielle Banet who scored a breathtaking try for Les Bleus after a mazy run from the halfway line.
With the Red Roses trailing by eight points with 20 minutes to go, Middleton threw the dice and emptied his bench — sending on all eight substitutes.
Within minutes his side were down by 13 points as Banet scored her second try; Safi N’Diaye had given a quick ball to allow the wing to dive over.
But the home side, needing two converted tries to win, showed just why they are the number-one side in World Rugby.
As the England set piece became steadier, the forwards scored a try from a maul as Poppy Cleall went over.
And with just eight minutes remaining, Ellie Kildunne scored under the posts and Scarratt kicked the conversion — leaving England just one point behind.
Middleton’s dramatic gamble paid off as the Red Roses won a penalty in front of the posts with no time left on the clock. A nerveless Scarratt kicked the penalty to seal a late England win.
France looked devastated as the kick went over to kill their hopes of a famous victory.
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