England recorded their first win away to France since 2012 in an impressive all-round performance in front of a crowd of 13,700 in Clermont.
France threw the kitchen sink at England for most of the opening half-hour, but implacable English defence soaked up almost everything France threw at them before breaking out near the end of the first half to score two tries and go into the break 17-3 ahead.
The first 20 minutes was all France, but the result was just three points. The threat that England posed resulted in France putting extra numbers into breakdowns, allowing them to keep possession, but giving them few options. As a result the English line was barely threatened. A very kickable penalty was missed by Jessy Tremouliere after 6 minutes, though she made amends six minutes later to put France ahead 3-0.
The lead lasted just five minutes, Emily Scarratt pulling England level.
France continued to press, but were unable to add to their score.
England, on the other hand, when they finally broke out of defence, looked a much greater threat. Their maul could only be stopped by French conceding penalties, and when warned that the next infringement would lead to a red card, had no answer to next drive which ended with a try for Sarah Hunter on 34 minutes.
After the restart France barely touched the ball before Hunter added a second score four minutes later.
Half-time – France 3, England 17.
France crossed the line early in the second half, but Tremouliere’s try was ruled out when she ran into one of her own players. It was one of a series of self-inflicted errors that were costly for the French, epitomised a few minutes later when, having battled down to the English 5m line, two over-thrown line-outs saw the game move back into the French half
Despite this, just after the midway point in the second half, and aided by a yellow card against Marlie Packer, France pulled a try back, Camille Boudaud ended a period of massive French pressure on the England line by diving over in the corner. Tremouliere brilliantly converted from the line, and France were back within a score. 10-17, and 26 minutes to go.
Strong English defence and French errors continued to frustrate the home team, and with eight minutes to go, a second Scarratt penalty pulled the visitors 10 points ahead after which England successfully saw out time.
France: 1 Annaelle Deshaye; 2 Agathe Sochat; 3 Clara Joyeux; 4 Lenaig Corson; 5 Safi N’diaye; 6 Marjorie Mayans; 7 Gaelle Hermet ©; 8 Romane Menager; 9 Pauline Bourdon; 10 Caroline Drouin; 11 Marine Menager; 12 Gabriellle Vernier; 13 Camille Boudaud; 14 Caroline Boujard; 15 Jessy Tremouliere
Replacements: 16 Caroline Thomas; 17 Maylis Traore; 18 Chloe Pelle; 19 Celine Ferer; 20 Julie Annery; 21 Laure Sansus; 22 Morgane Peyronnet; 23 Ian Jason
England: Sarah McKenna, Abby Dow, Emily Scarratt , Zoe Harrison, Jess Breach, Katy Daley-McLean, Leanne Riley, Hannah Botterman, Lark Davies, Sarah Bern, Zoe Aldcroft, Abbie Scott, Sarah Beckett, Marlie Packer, Sarah Hunter (C),
Replacements: Heather Kerr, Ellena Perry, Shaunagh Brown, Poppy Cleall, Vicky Fleetwood, Natasha Hunt, Emily Scott, Lydia Thompson