Mighty England maul France to continue Women’s Six Nations reign

France 21-42 England: A sixth consecutive Six Nations crown was secured by a brilliant win in front of a hostile Bordeaux crowd

Harry Latham-Coyle
at the Stade Chaban-Delmas
Saturday 27 April 2024 20:36 BST
England secured another grand slam crown
England secured another grand slam crown (Getty Images)

The Women’s Six Nations revolution will have to wait for another year as England’s reign of terror goes on. For six years now the Red Roses have ruled this competition with an iron fist and jewel-studded crown, and the most dominant rugby team on the planet were garlanded again in the glory of a magisterial Bordeaux performance.

Who knows what John Mitchell’s side may go on to achieve over the next 18 months but this group will be remembered as a fine vintage. The discourse around their dominance will remain but it would be wrong not to applaud their ambition and aptitude for improvement. England began this tournament adjusting to their new head coach, continuing an ambitious overhaul of the systems and structures that have served them so well. But they have reaped much merited rewards from their development – this is now a team capable of beating even their closest challenger any which way they please.

“It has been an enjoyable tournament,” said head coach Mitchel afterwards. “You never underestimate this tournament, it’s a great tournament.

England were impressive in Bordeaux
England were impressive in Bordeaux (Getty Images)

“I think we’ve set a pretty good benchmark in this competition in terms of sending a message to everyone else in terms of how we want to play the game. We got just as much energy today as France playing in front of full capacity and the girls deserve this kind of environment. They’ve earned it. They are big game players.”

It had been a wretched day in Bordeaux, the tram tracks overrun by the gathering water as the late spring rain poured. Not that it stopped the fans piling in, 28,000 Bordelais filling the stone seats of the charmingly rough and rustic Stade Chaban-Delmas and making the noise of many more.

Forecast storms never arrived and it was under clearing skies that the two sides emerged to provide the thunder on the pitch. This was the most hostile atmosphere that England have experienced on their 29-match Women’s Six Nations winning run. The Red Roses had spoken about embracing that challenge and revelling in the hostility, the smiles broadening as their arrival was booed and again when a roaring rendition of La Marseillaise came to a close.

Megan Jones scores the third try for England
Megan Jones scores the third try for England (Getty)

Their lyrical, mellifluous backs have sung plenty in this tournament but in Bordeaux it was back to the brutal beat poetry at which they are equally proficient. A marker was laid down at the first set piece. The crowd roared poussez, imploring a French scrum that had been just about perfect in the tournament so far to drive forward; instead, England’s eight forced them to make a hasty retreat. The penalty was kicked to the corner and, after a series of punishing close-in carries, Maud Muir took Hannah Botterman’s pop to crash over by the posts.

France were back under their sticks soon enough. A midfield breakdown penalty allowed the visitors to advance again via the boot, and the maul sucked in the home defence. Quick hands continued the quick start, Amy Cokayne providing the linking fingers to allow Alex Matthews to cross for a second score on the right.

Maud Muir drives forward for the Red Roses
Maud Muir drives forward for the Red Roses (Getty Images)

The worst fears of an English canter to victory were starting to come true but France had an answer. Gabrielle Vernier has endured something of a quiet tournament by her high standards, the dynamite midfielder having struggled for impact in the absence of running mate Maelle Filopon. Not so here, the inside centre cutting the sort of diamond-edged line at which she excels to make a clean cut through England’s defence.

Yet France could not get out of their own way. Emilie Boulard’s foolish, flippant offload in her own 22 gifted a gobbling Meg Jones the easiest intercept score she could ever hope to score, and after Marine Menager had kept France in touch by dancing by Jess Breach, another error allowed England another chance to show their maul might.

Marlie Packer was the buried beneficiary and Amy Cokayne soon joined her captain on the ledger on the back of her pack’ burl. Throughout their attacking adventures in this campaign the Red Roses have maintained that they still have the blunter instruments in their tool box – this was a display of fearsome forward power.

Alex Matthews scored twice in the emphatic win
Alex Matthews scored twice in the emphatic win (Getty Images)

Things threatened to spiral after an early second-half sending off – Assia Khalfaoui came driving a shoulder into the head of Morwenna Talling – but France found life despite being down a player. To some extent, at least: despite dominating second-half territory and possession, and falling in to favour with referee Maggie Cogger-Orr, it took them half-an-hour to break down England’s remarkably sturdy defence, Marine Menager scoring in the corner.

It only urged England to add some gloss. The tireless, tremendous Matthews added a second individual score and the Red Roses breached the 40-point barrier again. Perhaps France can catch up quickly but this championship will continue into a World Cup year with a single genuine contender: England have surged into the stratosphere and the gap between the best and the rest has grown.

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