England’s U20s showed their seniors the way forward, coming from behind to win in France for the first time.
Three second half tries from Leah Bartlett, Phoebe Murray and Zoe Harrison and the kicking of Helena Rowland gave England their first win in 14 attempts in Lille on a cold, but sunny, Saturday afternoon (24th February).
The same team that had shutout The Army started at the home of French club Lille Metrolpole, but their defensive record soon fell when a magnificent cross-kick by Emma Coudert put France in for their first score.
A Rowland penalty pulled England back to 5-3, but soon after the restart an attempted clearance kick by England went straight out. From the resulting lineout, France swept the ball across the field in a great passing move that ended with Nassira Konde scoring in the corner. 10-3 to France.
Again, the boot of Rowland pulled England back within a score – and 10-6 was how the score remained until the break.
The second half started with France mis-firing. Two penalties in succession put England in a dangerous position. A 5m line out set England up and it was Leah Bartlett who crashed over to put England ahead. With the conversion they lead by 13-10.
The score woke the French up and within a couple of minutes it was the power of their forward line the crashed through to put he home team ahead 15-13.
A period of French pressure followed before the match’s controversial turning point. Another great cross-kick found a French wing who was tackled right on the line. She seemed to reach forward and touch down on the line, but after a long discussion (no TVO available) a knock-on was awarded.
The game now turned on a run from England replacement prop Hannah Botterman who broke the French line and was just pulled up short after a 40m run, but England retained possession and Phoebe Murray found space right by the posts to put England ahead again, 20-15.
Now perhaps the games second turning point as almost from the restart England scored again. The French defence seemed to have their minds elsewhere when Zoe Harrison accelerated through to put England firmly in command. With the conversion it was now 27-15 to the visitors.
The last quarter-hour was almost all France battling to put things right, but it was now perhaps the benches that came into play, with England having the edge. France for all their possession could barely get into the English 22. With the time almost up (and the stadium clock already on 80m) Charlotte Rufas final broke the English line, but the conversion again fell short.
There was just time for a restart and a desperate French final play, but England held firm – and celebrated England U20s first ever win on French soil.
FRANCE: Konde - Mambe, Rufas, Coutouly, J. Coudert - (o) Coudert, (m) Torres Duxans - Vinacua, Cazorla, Gaulon - Mancip, Fall - Joyeux, Lespielle, Deschamps
Replacements: Kiehlmannmia, Pujol, Pellegris, Brozda, Zobel, Vidal, Arbez, Constans
ENGLAND: Uren (cap) - Stoeger-Goddard, Murray, Attwood, Clarke - (o) Rowland, (m) Bricknell - Beckett, Wilcock, Copson - Galligan, Cunningham - Mulhearn, Bartlett, Perry
Replacements: Gilbert, Roberts, Botterman, Brincat, Manson, Wyrwas, Harrison, Adam