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Matthews leads England to third grand slam in row with victory in France
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Matthews leads England to third grand slam in row with victory in France

England have been bathed in Women’s Six Nations glory since 2019 and the winning sunlight warmed their skin once again as Marlie Packer lifted the trophy aloft for the Red Roses’ third successive grand slam and sixth consecutive title. England were convincing and lethal in their win over France but they did show weaknesses in defence in the second half, giving the head coach, John Mitchell, the arm wrestle he had wanted.

In the buildup Mitchell was keen to pick up some lessons from Le Crunch, especially with a home Rugby World Cup on the horizon. England were most definitely dealt them by a ferocious France team, who went down to 14 players in the 43rd minute after Assia Khalfaoui was given a red card, but they managed to weather the storm.

“The girls stood up really, really well today,” Mitchell said. “You never underestimate this tournament, it’s a great tournament. It’s our bread and butter, it’s where we get our respect at home. We wanted to stay the best 45 days ago, we have been able to achieve that.”

Temperamental weather plagued the Bordeaux skies throughout the day but for a few hours before kick-off the heavens opened. It did not dampen the atmosphere, though, with some supporters in their seats two hours before kick-off and a live band sound tracked the buildup. As England emerged to warm up the boos mimicked the weather and rained down, just a hint of the hostility to come from the record crowd.

Fireworks and shouts of ‘Allez les Bleues’ signalled kick-off and France had the first attacking scrum but England won a penalty. They kicked to the corner and employed their famous maul but the hosts defended well, forcing the Red Roses to run it through the hands and, after a few phases, Maud Muir was over. Soon England were in again, this time through Alex Matthews.

France were not going to be steamrollered though and they had the next momentum swing. Biding their time, they inched closer and the centre Gabrielle Vernier sniped to hit back on the scoreboard. The home supporters were on a simmer before the try but the score saw the cauldron boil over with life breathed back into France’s grand slam hopes.

Megan Jones breaks away to score England’s third try of the matchView image in fullscreen

A rendition of La Marseillaise reverberated around the ground but was soon silenced as the England centre Megan Jones intercepted a pass to score the team’s third. But the Red Roses also fell asleep in defence, Pauline Bourdon Sansus carved them open and fed Marine Ménager who beat a defender to score.

Packer was next over for England, confirmed by a television match official check, and to finish the first-half action the hooker Amy Cokayne, who returned to the team after her ban, scored to send England into the break with a 35-14 lead and one hand on the trophy.

France’s second half started in the worst way possible, with the prop Khalfaoui dispatched to the sin-bin for shoulder-to-head contact and the incident sent to a bunker review. The decision was upgraded to a red card, the announcement met with boos and whistles, making France’s title ambitions that much slimmer.

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Under the pump, being a player down, the French crowd rose to the occasion, urging on every linebreak and somehow becoming even louder than they had been before. The French landed blow after blow to the England defensive line and the Red Roses coughed up numerous penalties which eventually let Ménager in for her second.

They couldn’t stage a comeback, could they? No. England’s points tally proved too much and the visitors widened the gap again with Matthews’ second of the afternoon confirming the Red Roses’ victory.

The win is England’s 29th in a row in the tournament and their ever-improving side are showing no signs of relinquishing the record run, or the trophy, any time soon.

Packer was asked if she has ever played in a better England team and the captain said: “No I don’t think so. I was asked the question earlier: ‘Where is the limit for this team?’ I don’t think we have a limit. We have 2025 on the horizon but we have got a lot of rugby to play from here to there.”

Source: theguardian.com