France caused the upset of the Women's Rugby Super Series 2019 so far with an impressive 25-16 defeat of world champions New Zealand in San Diego on Saturday.
Les Bleues had been well-beaten by Canada in their first match on Tuesday, but inspired by World Rugby Women's 15s Player of the Year 2018 Jessy Trémoulière, centre Maelle Filopon and scrum-half Pauline Bourdon they had the measure of New Zealand from the outset at the Chula Vista Training Center.
Despite beating New Zealand, France will slip back to fourth in the World Rugby Women's Rankings when they update on Monday at 12:00. They did end the week with a slightly higher rating, but the 36-19 loss to Canada on Tuesday means the two sides will swap places for the second week running.
The defeat could also have cost New Zealand the number one spot they have held since August 2017 had England beaten Canada by more than 15 points rather than the narrow 19-17 win they managed thanks to captain Sarah Hunter's late try as the North Americans paid the price for two yellow cards.
Instead, only seven hundredths will now separate the two sides to have occupied top spot in the women's rankings.
New Zealand still top the Women's Rugby Super Series standings with 10 points, one more than England with Canada third on six points, two points above France with USA yet to register a point after two heavy defeats.
The Black Ferns will sit out the fourth round on Wednesday when England will tackle France before hosts USA meet neighbours Canada.
FRANCE 25-16 NEW ZEALAND
An inspired performance by France got their Women's Rugby Super Series campaign back on track with a 25-16 victory over world champions New Zealand.
France had won the most recent meeting between the sides last November, a 30-27 triumph in Grenoble giving them their first victory over the world champions, and they started the stronger in San Diego as they sought to bounce back from a disappointing loss to Canada.
Les Bleues opened the scoring in the sixth minute when centre Maelle Filopon – a try-scorer in that win – got on the outside of the Black Ferns defence and found Jessy Trémoulière, who sent winger Caroline Boujard over.
Trémoulière put the conversion just wide of the upright, but made no mistake with a penalty minutes later for an 8-0 lead. In the 15th minute another Trémoulière penalty hit the upright, but the ball fell perfectly for the advancing Filopon to gather and step the defence to make it 15-0.
A neck roll by second-row Madoussou Fall allowed Kendra Cocksedge, playing her 50th test for the Black Ferns, to get her side on the board with a penalty after 20 minutes, but Trémoulière restored the 15-point lead with her second penalty shortly after.
France had a temporary reprieve when, on the half-hour, referee Joy Neville reversed her initial decision to yellow-card Caroline Thomas after viewing the footage which showed the hooker had been pushed by Black Ferns number eight Charmaine McMenamin into Cocksedge to deny her quick ball.
However, with France on a warning for repeated infringements, it wasn't long before second-row Audrey Forlani saw yellow for hands in the ruck, allowing Cocksedge to kick her second penalty to cut the deficit to 18-6 at half-time.
Another break from Filopon and Trémoulière seemed certain to result in the first try of the second half, but centre Gabrielle Vernier knocked on with the line in sight and within a minute it was New Zealand threatening to score, powerful winger Ayesha Leti-l'iga breaking into the France 22 before Boujard got her hands on the ball to win a relieving penalty.
A third penalty from scrum-half Cocksedge edged New Zealand closer in the 53rd minute, but then her failure to find touch with a penalty on the hour mark was punished by France who attacked down the right to give the impressive Trémoulière space to run in their third try for a 25-9 lead.
France kept the pressure on New Zealand as they sought the bonus point try, putting together phase after phase on the line before spreading the ball wide only for Filopon's knee to buckle underneath her and give the Black Ferns a chance to break from the turnover, taking play up to halfway where Cocksedge knocked on.
After a lengthy delay for treatment for the French centre who was stretchered off, New Zealand were given a boost with two yellow cards in little more than a minute for Les Bleues, the first for Bourdon for killing the ball and then captain Gaelle Hermet for sacking a drive just short of the line, giving referee Neville little choice but to award the penalty try.
They had left themselves too much to do, though, and the 13 women of France held firm for the final six minutes to make it two wins in a row over the world champions.
CANADA 17-19 ENGLAND
England captain Sarah Hunter's late try snatched victory for the Six Nations Grand Slam winners as Canada paid the price for two yellow cards in the second half, conceding all 19 points while a player down.
With England fresh from a bye in round two and Canada buoyed by their win over France, the opening quarter was an end-to-end affair with both sides testing each other out, the forwards going at each other in a physical battle with neither side able to turn the opportunities created into points on the scoreboard.
Canada came closest to scoring the opening try, hammering away at the England line with repeated pick-and-goes but the Red Roses defence held firm with the North Americans held up over the line.
However, from the resulting scrum, a powerful run from centre Sara Kaljuvee took them to within a metre of the line and second-row Tyson Beukeboom was adjudged to have grounded the ball by the TMO. Brianna Miller couldn't add the conversion, but Canada were worth their 5-0 lead after 25 minutes.
England tried the same tactic but were unable to find a way through some determined Canadian defence, their physicality allowing Canada to win the battle at the breakdown against a side bidding for a seventh successive victory over them. It wasn't all about the physical power up front, though, as the Canada backs were eager to run from anywhere, including penalties deep in their own 22.
The second half was barely two minutes old when Canada were reduced to 14 players, flanker Gabrielle Senft yellow-carded for an off the ball incident. However, Canada belied their player disadvantage to go the length of the field to score their second try, Elissa Alarie picking up a loose ball after an England move broke down and dancing her way through the defence before releasing speedster Paige Farries to run in from her own half for a 12-0 lead.
England needed to score before Senft returned and they did when, having been held up over the line, they got the drive on from the resulting scrum and were awarded a penalty try by referee Amy Perrett after Canada illegally halted the charge. By the time Senft returned to the field her side had conceded 14 points in her absence as replacement Emily Scarratt's first involvement was to release winger Kelly Smith for a run-in before slotting the conversion.
Canada, though, didn't panic and within four minutes were ahead again, a number of pick-and-goes on the England line tying in the defence before they quickly swung the ball wide, centre Alex Tessier flicking it on for Farries to go over in the corner for her second try, one Miller was again unable to convert.
It was England's turn then to lose a player to the sin-bin after replacement Abbie Scott was penalised for a high tackle just before the hour mark, although her fellow forwards made light of her absence to drive the Canadian scrum back 10 metres with apparent ease to win a penalty. Nothing came of it, but at least the Red Roses did not concede any points in her absence.
The same could not be said for Canada, who were left ruing a second yellow card, this time for replacement Sara Svoboda, when Hunter gave her side the lead with a 74th minute try.
Scarratt's conversion dropped short this time for a 19-17 lead, but when play restarted it was with a penalty on halfway for Canada. Up stepped number eight Sophie de Goede, who had kicked so impressively against France in round two, but her attempt had neither the distance or direction and that was the last Canada saw of the ball as the Red Roses wrapped up the win.
Photos: Travis Prior