England 29 France 25: England Women crowned European Cup champions
An injury time try for Worcester wing Lydia Thompson, who made her England debut just seven days ago in the tournament opener, secured the victory in the dying minutes of the game.
The match, which was billed as the winner takes all clash, was a typical England versus France encounter with both sides fired up and giving everything they had to secure the win and the crown.
But in the end it was England’s tenacity that paid off as they came from a 22-25 deficit to take the title away from France in style.
England Head Coach for this tour Graham Smith, who blooded seven new caps over seven days, said: “This has been a tour of opportunity for all the players involved and I can safely say every single player involved has taken this opportunity with both hands.
“This was a scintillating game, but as a coach a hard game to watch. We certainly controlled the first half but after the restart it was a different matter and France took control when we couldn’t get our consistency going and we did not defend as well. We also gave away too many penalties and France were able to take those points and that put us in a precarious position.
“However, we never gave up and after making some changes from the bench we took our opportunities, with Sally Tuson scoring a late try and then Lydia Thompson touching down for the crucial score in extra time.
“We are obviously delighted to have won the European Cup and defended our title but I am more delighted about the fact that we have underlined what talent we have coming through our system. It has also been great to have Simon Middleton on board as Assistant Coach for this championship. He has made a real impression and we are fortunate to have a coach of his calibre involved in the England set-up.”
England took the European Cup crown the hard way going 3-0 behind in the early stages after French full-back Jessy Tremouliere converted a penalty when England were penalised for holding on.
France and England then battled it out in a typical clash between these two sides, which saw them neck and neck for the next forty minutes. England had their chances, with both Katherine Merchant and Thompson going close but France defended staunchly and kept their fierce rivals out.
In the end France’s line did break when Bristol flanker Marlie Packer made some space before offloading to Thompson, who had both the power and the pace to dive over the try-line. Emily Scarratt (PICTURED) added the conversion to hand England a 7-3 lead at the break.
After the restart though, France turned the tables and a 42nd minute try for substitute Elordie Portaries, after a good line-out, catch and drive, saw them take a 7-10 lead.
England try machine Merchant then put England back in control with a 49th minute touchdown, converted by Scarratt, but the lead did not last long as French fly-half Aurelie Bailon kept the scoreboard ticking over with two penalties and two drop goals.
Scarratt clawed a penalty back for England but at 25-17 down, and only five minutes left of full time, France looked like they had done enough to take the title.
However, Bristol centre and substitute Tuson, who had been on the field for just seven minutes, ignited a spark for England which France couldn’t put out however hard they tried. A good drive from a line-out saw the ball recycled out to Merchant and then a waiting Tuson, who on just her third cap, powered over the try-line to score.
Scarratt, however, couldn’t make the conversion leaving England 22-25 adrift but as the clocked counted down in injury time some superb footwork and evasive running saw winger Thompson surge her way 60 metres up-field to score. France did everything they could to tackle Thompson to the ground but with no success and in the end it cost them the victory. With Scarratt this time making the conversion England took a very memorable 29-25 victory.
15 Danielle Waterman (Worcester), 14 Lydia Thompson (Worcester), 13 Emily Scarratt (Lichfield), 12 Kimberley Oliver (Bristol), 11 Katherine Merchant (Worcester), 10 CeriLarge (Worcester), 9 Georgina Rozario (Lichfield), 1 Rochelle Clark (Worcester), 2 Victoria Fleetwood (Lichfield), 3 Laura Keates (Worcester), 4 Rowena Burnfield (Richmond), 5 Tamara Taylor (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks), 6 Sarah Hunter (C) (Lichfield), 7 Marlie Packer (Bristol), 8 Harriet Millar-Mills (Lichfield). Replacements: 16 Emma Croker (Richmond), 17 Rosemarie Crowley (Lichfield), 18 Emil Braund (Lichfield), 19 Gemma Sharples (Worcester), 20 Fiona Davidson (Richmond), 21 Lauren Cattell (Chesham), 22 Sally Tuscon (Bristol), 23 Kate Newton (Bristol), 24 Fiona Fletcher (Lichfield), 25 Ruth Laybourn (Darlington Mowden Park Sharks)
Tries: Thompson (2), Merchant, Tuson
Conversions: Scarratt (3)
Substitutions: Crowley for Clark, Sharples for Packer, Croker for Fleetwood, Tuson for Large (all 70), Braund for Burnfield (81), Davidson for Rozario (86)
England Women’s European Cup Schedule
Spain v England, May 12, WON 61-0.
Italy v England, May 15,WON 32-8
France v England, May 19, WO 29-5