19 mins. When we restart, England are still on the French 5m line rattling up and into the tackle line to look for a breakthrough. Les Bleus are fanned out across the field and repelling all efforts before England inch over the line via an Abby Ward carry. But Hermet, just on the field, holds the ball up!
Still no score, but still plenty to be interested in.
17 mins. As soon as I typed that Marlie Packer hit the line beautifully on a short angle to get in behind the French tackle line. She pops it to Cockayne to rumble into the 22 but the defence covers. On the next phase Menager gets her head in completely the wrong place in the tackle and is out cold on the deck.
Play rightly stops to check the French No8 out. She’s sitting up now, but her game is over as Gaelle Hermet replaces her. She’s in tears as the leaves the field, what a heartbreaking scene.
Two huge losses in the first quarter for France.
16 mins. Safe to say this is a game for the defences so far, both sides great without the ball but less consistent when attempting to create rather than frustrate.
14 mins. France have had decent positions on the field on three separate occoasions, each of which have resulted in them spilling the ball like they have saucisson fingers.
The latest of these resutls in another offside penalty and England are back in the blue half and on the attack.
Substitution confirmed. Sansus is sitting up on the golf cart and being driven off to be replaced by Pauline Bourdon, he rival in the squad and partner in life. Double inspiration for Pauline to drive France forward.
12 mins. On the England 22, France have a catch and drive of their own that looks a decent platform, but some handling imprecision has the ball back in Packer’s hands.
There’s a break in play as Laure Sansus, the talismanic Les Bleus scrum-half, is down injured. It looks like the right knee and it doesn’t look good.
11 mins. The England maul was held by the French pack, leading the attack to be spread left and then back to the middle. The blue wall stands strong and eventually wins a penalty for England not releasing the ball.
Top quality stuff from both sides there.
8 mins. Zoe Harrison sends up a bomb to test France fullback Chloe Jacquet, a test she fails miserably as her attempt to catch it found her not even in the same timezone as the ball. France are then offside and England can get their deadly catch and drive going from a lineout in les Bleus 22.
5 mins. France’s first set of phased play in the England half has their forwards taking some big carries, but a tiny bit of isolation in a run from Romane Menager allows Marlie Packer to clamp on to win a penalty for the Red Roses.
England send the ball left to MacDonald who is nearly away but for a desperate covering tackle.
2 mins. Early chance for the packs to size each other up after a France knock on. Les Bleus appear to get a nudge on, but Ref Neville decides to collapsed with no fault, then an early engagement free kick allows England to boot the ball into the France half.
Encouraging signs for the French forwards, though.
Kick Off!1 min. A long blast of ref Joy Neville’s whistle brings a kick from Drouin and we’re away.
The teams are out as the gloaming gathers overheard in Whangarei.
It’s anthem time.
Sarah Hunter, England’s inspirational, indefatigable captain today equals Rocky Clarke’s record of 137 caps. It’s not a hugely risky prediction to say that she’ll end this tournament as the most capped England player of all time.
So far today in the Rugby World Cup….
Scotland narrowly lost to Australia in the first match. That’s two games, two losses by three points or less for the women in blue.
And the USA have just beaten Japan to get their first stage points in an entertaining encounter.
Pre Match reading.
These teams are very familiar to one another, and Rob Kitson has a look at what that means for today
What’s your favourite thing about Saturday? Other than reading this MBM report, obviously.
“Saturday’s Child” by The Monkees? That feeling when you look at your phone and you didn’t embarrass yourself on social media when bladdered Friday night?
Brunch? Lunch? Monster Munch? Monster Munch for brunch and lunch?
Tell me all this and more via email or on the Twitter @bloodandmud
TeamsOne change from Simon Middleton as he brings the peerless Marlie Packer in at the expense of Sadia Kebaya. It says much for Packer’s standing that her return can jettison a Player of the Match performer from last week from today’s squad entirely. The noises off wondering if Jess Breach may return have been resisted, with the pairing of Lydia Thompson and Claudia MacDonald, rampant last week vs Fiji, retained along with Abby Dow on the bench.
It’s a similar nearly as you were pick for France with the only change being vice captain Agathe Sochat preferred to Laure Touyé at hooker, the latter taking a place on the bench.
15. Ellie Kildunne; 14. Lydia Thompson, 13. Emily Scarratt, 12. Helena Rowland, 11. Claudia MacDonald; 10. Zoe Harrison, 9. Leanne Infante; 1. Vickii Cornborough, 2. Amy Cokayne, 3. Sarah Bern; 4. Zoe Aldcroft, 5. Abbie Ward; 6. Alex Matthews, 7. Marlie Packer, 8. Sarah Hunter (c).
16. Connie Powell, 17. Hannah Botterman, 18. Maud Muir, 19. Cath O’Donnell, 20. Poppy Cleall, 21. Lucy Packer, 22. Holly Aitchison, 23. Abby Dow.
15. Chloe Jacquet; 14. Joanna Grisez, 13. Maelle Filopon, 12. Gabrielle Vernier, 11. Emilie Boulard; 10. Caroline Drouin, 9. Laure Sansus; 1. Annaelle Deshaye, 2. Agathe Sochat, 3. Clara Joyeux; 4. Celine Ferer (c), 5. Madoussou Fall; 6. Charlotte Escudero, 7. Marjorie Mayans, 8. Romane Menager.
16. Laure Touye, 17. Coco Lindelauf, 18. Assia Khalfaoui, 19. Safi N’Diaye, 20. Gaelle Hermet, 21. Pauline Bourdon, 22. Lina Queyroi, 23. Marine Menager.
PreambleWelcome to Whangarei for this second group stage round tie between England and France.
This game is a tricky situation this for the England women and their coach, Simon Middleton. France are the last Northern Hemisphere team to defeat the Red Roses back in 2018, and the team that have the potential to knock England off their perch 26 wins tall perch. However, this outcome has not been the case since that gallic victory four years ago, with all 14 meetings since producing an England win by an average of 12 points.
Why is it tricky then, you may ask? Well, this is an early match-up between two tournament front runners and anything shy of a comfortable win for the team in white will likely be seen as an underperformance. Heavy lies the crown, and all that. And I come back to France being one of the teams with the ability to make England uncomfortable. To maybe even beat them. England, ever the powerful pragmatists, will probably do the necessary and even a defeat would be stored in their revenge hump for later.
The truly worrying thing would be an England victory on a huge scale, as that would sound alarm bells for the competitiveness of this grand competition far too early in proceedings. Having said that, England men were absolutely walloped by the Springboks in the group phase of RWC2007 and still reached the final and made it competitive. So what do I know?