England were crowned Six Nations champions after a titanic struggle with France in a game which ended 38-33.
The cliché that rugby is a game of two halves, could be invoked here with some gusto as England won the first half 33-0 but France the second 31-5.
With all the momentum with the visitors, how England must have welcomed the final whistle as France looked like they could score at will, after a terrible first half to forget.
England ran out in front of a world record home crowd, in scenes some of us felt were perhaps still years off, but in the end, they did what they always do in this competition – win, this time just about.
France started well with some excellent carries from Axelle Berthoumieu handing Jessy Tremouliere an early kick a goal, which she missed.
England had further storms to weather. Melissande Llorens forced Abby Dow into early defensive duties, CharlotteEscudero’s carrying was superb and for the first seven minutes the game was played almost exclusively in England’s 22.
But England hung on, thanks largely in part to two superb Hannah Botterman turnovers and when Helena Rowland made their first break of the game they scored – with Abby Dow finishing out side. It was a sucker punch for what had been a dominant French performance so far and England built in confidence from it.
Marlie Packer was next to crash over, this time after a brilliant offload from Tatyna Heard as suddenly France looked incredibly fallible, struggling in the scrum.
England’s power carrying was just too much for the French, with Tremouliere yellow carded for a deliberate knock on under pressure. Alex Matthews made the extra number count driving over after another dominant scrum.
Rose Bernadou was the second player to be yellow carded as France just couldn’t cope with the pressure being exerted. Zoe Aldcorft scored just before the break to make it 33-0 at halftime
France were so much better after the restart with Gabrelle Vernier and Pauline Bourdon desperately trying to spark something in attack.
Bourdon’s crisp and speedy passing resulted in a first try for Emilie Boulard and Menager entering the fold marked an uptick in tempo.
Vernier’s brilliance was once again on show as she stepped Lucy Packer to race over for a second try and at 33-14 there was a glimmer of hope.
England went to their comfort zone, using their driving maul to help Lark Davies over the line and then France hit back again, this time through Charlotte Escudero who dotted down from a driving lineout.
At 38-21 there were some question marks beginning to occur among the England fans, especially when Emiline Gros scored another and Vernier and Menager linked up to almost score what would have been the try of the game.
But England hung on – and hanging on they were, to take the win.
A great game, on one of women’s rugby’s greatest days.
England: Kildunne; Dow, Rowland, Heard, MacDonald; Aitchison, L Packer; Botterman, Davies, Bern; Aldcroft, Beckett; Kabeya, M Packer (capt), Matthews.
Replacements: Powell, Carson, Muir, Cleall, Talling, Hunt, Reed, Breach.
France: Boulard; Banet, M Menager, Vernier, Llorens; Tremouliere, Bourdon; Brosseau, Sochat, Bernadou, Feleu, Forlani (capt), Berthoumieu, Hermet, Escudero.
Replacements: Riffonneau, Mwayembe, Khalfaoui, R Menager, Gros, Chambon, Arbez, Filopon.