England took control of Pool C at Rugby World Cup 2021 with a hard-fought 13-7 victory against France at Northland Events Centre on Saturday.
The Red Roses ran in 14 tries in their opening win against Fiji last weekend but they found points much harder to come by against a resolute Les Bleues defence.
Emily Scarratt scored all of her side’s points in Whangārei, her second penalty of the match in the 62nd minute giving them a 13-0 lead with less than 19 minutes to play.
France refused to give in though, and after Gaëlle Hermet crossed the whitewash in the 64th minute, Les Bleues put the Red Roses under considerable pressure.
That Les Bleues were still in the contest at that stage owed itself largely to a committed rear-guard action. France put in an incredible defensive effort throughout the match, standing firm in the face of wave after wave of England pressure.
In the opening 26 minutes alone, Les Bleues made 81 tackles to their opponents’ 14, but it came at a considerable cost as scrum-half Laure Sansus and number eight Romane Ménager both left the field injured.
The Red Roses finally turned possession and territory into points in the 24th minute as a 14-phase move ended with Zoe Harrison popping a pass to Emily Scarratt, who cut back against the defence and scored.
Scarratt converted to give England a 7-0 lead and she would add a penalty on the stroke of half-time to stretch her side’s advantage to 10 points.
The second half played out to much the same script, but England again struggled to break through the committed French defence.
Ill-discipline from Les Bleues presented the Red Roses with a penalty right in front of the posts in the 62nd minute, though, and Scarratt duly slotted it through the posts to stretch their lead to 13 points.
France were staring at a first Rugby World Cup pool stage defeat for 16 years, but two minutes later they found a way back into the contest with a wonderfully worked try.
A crosskick from Caroline Drouin found Joanna Grisez in space on the right wing, and although she was stopped before the line, Gaëlle Hermet was on hand to dot down.
Drouin then added an impressive conversion to cut Les Bleues’ deficit to six points.
The pressure on England did not let up in the final 15 minutes but the Red Roses were able to see it out, Harrison’s kick to touch confirming a 27th test victory in a row.