The first game of a double-header from the Halliwell-Jones Stadium saw the England Ladies side take on the French side as both teams looked for positives in their build up to the World Cup in the Autumn.
England came into the game on the back of a commanding 32-6 win over Wales at Cross Keys last Sunday but it was the first outing for the French side since they lost to England by 40-4 last October at the Stade Gilbert Brutus in Perpignan.
Most eyes were on Courtney Winfield-Hill, the thirty-five year old Australian cricketer and Leeds Rhinos scrum half who was making her debut in an England jersey alongside fellow debutant Keara Bennett. England Ladies have never lost to France and the strong expectation was that they would continue that winning run.
It took a full seventeen minutes for England to take the lead thanks to a nice pass from Georgia Roche on the inside finding Hollie Dodd who weaved her way through the French defence to score from twenty metres out. Tara Stanley added the conversion for a 6-0 lead. England were off and running after a frustrating opening.
It took nine minutes for England to add their second, Caitlin Beevers taking the ball on the overlap left to run in from ten metres out but this time Stanley couldn´t add the extras, her kick drifting across the front of the posts.
The third try followed two minutes later, on twenty-nine, with Amy Hardcastle finding a gap and running the angle to score by the uprights from twenty metres out. Stanley added the conversion and England were starting to cruise at 16-0.
A delightful step from Stanley saw her break for thirty metres and with a great chance of scoring herself she threw the pass to the wing, but a poor execution meant that Leah Burke couldn´t take in the pass and the try went begging.
Five minutes before the interval the French got in for their first try of the game after going close a fast play the ball was moved quickly down the blind side with Cristina Song Puche taking the pass to crash over from a metre out and ground in the corner. The attempted conversion hit the cross bar, France twelve points behind at the interval.
Elodie Pacull was sin-binned on forty-four for a reckless tackle, France´s task even tougher for the next ten minutes.
Three minutes after the sin-binning Hardcastle went in for her second of the afternoon when Stanley put her through a massive gap in the stretched French defence to go in from ten metres. Stanley was unable to add the extras leaving England 20-4.
Georgia Roche was on hand to take the first pass from dummy half and step between the two French defenders to go in for the fifth England try on fifty-six. Stanley added the extras for a 26-4 lead. England grinding out the win.
Determination from France with fifteen minutes remaining saw a scoot from dummy half by Mailys Borak to duck under the England tacklers and get the ball on the ground over the line. Elisa Ciria added the conversion for 26-10, France not giving up and having some good position and possession.
Roche got her second of the game with five minutes left on the clock after a sublime short pass from Cunningham to bust between two tacklers and go in from ten metres out. Stanley made no mistake with the conversion, England with a twenty-two point lead.
A high tackle on Beevers gifted England a penalty and two tackles in Fran Goldthorpe found space down the right to go over in the corner to complete the day´s try scoring. Stanley couldn´t add the extras from wide but after a tough encounter England had the spoils by 36-10.
This was a decent workout for the English ladies and the French can take some credit for putting in the big hits and never giving up. The Coaching staff may be disappointed that the scoreline wasn´t larger and will have plenty to ponder over the coming months. A decent enough showing but room for improvement.
England: Stanley (4G), Burke, Goldthorp (T), Hardcastle (2T), Beevers (T), Winfield-Hill, Roche (2T), Field, Homes, Wood, Dodd (T), Rudge, Cunningham. Subs: Hoyle, Bennett, Travis, Whitfield.
France: Akpa, Samarra M, Canal, Biville, Song Puche (T), Ciria (G), Varela, Pacull (SB on 44), Mansard, Alvernhe, Menaa, Monsarrat, Bessahli. Subs: Borak (T), Samarra D, Fourcroy, Ramos.
Score Progression: 4-0, 6-0, 10-0, 14-0, 16-0, 16-4 : HT : (SB), 20-4, 24-4, 26-4, 26-8, 26-10, 30-10, 32-10, 36-10: FT.
Lead Exchanges: England.
Referee: James Jones.