Craig Richards’ St Helens dominated England side travelled to Perpignan for a test match against the French national side in the last outing of 2021 in front of a sell-out crowd at the Stade Gilbert Brutus in a double-header with the men’s game.
Little was known about the opposition, but it was England who were the big favourites for the win, but a partisan home crowd could count as an extra player for the home side.
England won 54-4 in Carcassonne the last time that the two sides met almost three years ago in October 2018, but the promise from France was that this would be a very different game despite ‘Les Tricolores never having beaten England.
Back to back French errors gifted England good early possession and position but good French defence managed to frustrate the attack despite playing the early part of the game deep inside their own half.
It took a moment of individual quality to open the scoring on twenty-five after fast hands saw the ball into the hands of Amy Hardcastle who evaded two French tacklers in a thirty-metre run to score by the left upright. Tara-Jane Stanley added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
Five minutes later and the England lead was doubled with Page Travis palming off three tacklers in a twenty-metre run through a tiring French defence and dab down under the uprights. Stanley added the conversion for 12-0. England finally finding their feet.
On thirty-five, with England now dominating, skipper Emily Rudge went from first receiver, threw a dummy and then went over the top of her tackler to stretch for the line. Stanley was unable to add the conversion, but a terrific last quarter hour had seen the visitors take control of the game.
The second half was just forty-five seconds old when a Jodie Cunningham and Emily Rudge one-two saw Cunningham sprint forty metres to score under the sticks and give Stanley a simple goal to give England a 22-0 lead.
On fifty-eight England were in for their second of the half with Rudge busting the line and forcing the ball onto the ground for her second of the game. Beth Stott took over the kicking duties and added the conversion.
Tara Jones took a late offload to go through an inattentive French defence to score under the sticks from ten metres out. Stanley was back on kicking duties to add the extras with England now cruising to the win.
A thirty metre Caitlan Beevers sprint, off a Rachael Woosey thirty metre scoot from acting half back, was all too easy for England on seventy-seven. Stanley added the conversion to bring up the forty as England sought to keep their opponents off the score sheet.
Melanie Bianchini scored a late France consoltation as she took an inside pass and used her strength to get over the line. As the final hooter sounded, Tallis Kuresa was wide with the conversion attempt but France did have something to show for their efforts.
A tough opening twenty-five, during which neither side could breach their opponents defence, gave way to a progression of seven well worked tries for a comprehensive victory to end a superb domestic season.
France: Elisa Ciria; Christina Song Puche, Melanie Bianchini (T), Zoe Pastre Courtine, Manon Samarra, Elodie Pacull, Alice Varela, Jeanne Bernard, Cyndia Mansard, Gaelle Alvherne, Elisa Akpa, Laureane Biville, Leila Bessahli. Interchange: Fanny Ramos, Mailys Borak, Ines Legout, Tallis Kuresa.
England: Tara-Jane Stanley (Castleford Tigers) (5G), Fran Goldthorp (Leeds Rhinos), Savannah Andrade (York City Knights), Amy Hardcastle (St Helens) (T), Caitlin Beevers (Leeds Rhinos) (T), Jodie Cunningham (St Helens) (T), Beth Stott (St Helens) (G), Grace Field (York City Knights), Tara Jones (St Helens) (T), Chantelle Crowl (St Helens), Emily Rudge (St Helens - Captain) (2T), Hollie Dodd (Castleford Tigers), Vicky Molyneux (Wigan Warriors). Interchange: Shona Hoyle (Huddersfield Giants), Paige Travis (St Helens) (T), Vicky Whitfield (St Helens), Rachael Woosey (St Helens).
Referee: Andrew Pilkington.
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 0-10, 0-12, 0-16 : HT : 0-20, 0-22, 0-26, 0-28, 0-32, 0-34, 0-38, 0-40, 4-40 : FT.