England crowned women’s Six Nations champions
England beat a spirited France 38-33 to win their fifth straight women’s Six Nations title with a Grand Slam in front of a record-breaking crowd at Twickenham on Monday to give coach Simon Middleton a fitting farewell.
With 58,498 fans in the stadium, the fixture smashed the world record for attendance at a women’s rugby game which was previously 42,579 at last year’s World Cup final at Eden Park when New Zealand beat England.
Victory also marked England’s 24th straight win in the competition. Their last Six Nations loss came in 2018 when France narrowly beat the Red Roses 18-17 en route to the title.
Middleton, who is leaving the role after taking over in 2015, said it was an “honour and privilege” to coach the team.
“The girls should be massively proud of what they are doing. I am so proud,” Middleton told BBC.
“This game has given me more than I’ve ever dreamed of. It’s been an exceptional day that I will never forget. You live for moments like lifting the trophy, they deserve all the success they get.”
Top-ranked side England struggled with nerves at first before pulling away from third-ranked France to go into the break with a commanding 33-0 lead.
Abby Dow scored England’s first try and although Helena Rowland missed the conversion, she made no mistake when captain Marlie Packer and Alex Matthews powered over.
France were also temporarily down to 14 players when Jessy Tremouliere was sent to the sin bin, which also welcomed Rose Bernadou later in the half, helping England to score from a penalty try before Zoe Aldcroft also went over.
But England took their foot off the gas in the second half and France nearly turned things around with five second-half tries.
The visitors got on the board when Emilie Boulard scored the opening try before Gabrielle Vernier went through the English defence for a second.
“It was definitely a game of two halves but we stuck to it and our game plan,” player of the match Sadia Kabeya said.
Both teams then scored from rolling mauls to make it 38-21 to England with 65 minutes on the clock.
With five minutes left, France rallied with two more tries from Emeline Gros and Cyrielle Banet, but Tremouliere missed the first conversion as England held on for another Grand Slam.
“I am super proud, the whole squad in this Six Nations has got us to where we are today and it is amazing,” Packer said.
“We knew they would be tough, they played to the 80th minute and kept asking questions of us so credit to them.
“Simon’s team talk just then had me in tears. He has been amazing for what he has done for women’s rugby.”
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