England head coach Simon Middleton heaped praise on a ‘special’ performance by Emily Scarratt after her late penalty helped the Red Roses beat France 20-18 and move them to the top of the Women’s Rugby Super Series standings.
France dominated the opening 40 minutes with scores from Cyrielle Banet and Caroline Boujard giving Les Bleues an imposing 18-5 lead, Kelly Smith scoring England’s only try of the half.
However, England fought back when Zoe Harrison and Scarratt combined for two tries before Scarratt kicked a 25-metre penalty with eight minutes to go to give England the lead for the first time in the match and the all-important victory.
“Scarratt is a bit special isn’t she? There is nothing she cannot do really,” Middleton said.
“We showed the character in our team to come back from a tough position. We knew we could as we’ve got a lot of belief in being able to close games out – we did it against Canada and we’ve done it again with some monumental efforts on the field.”
THAT WINNING FEELING 🙌
The #RedRoses made it three wins from three in San Diego as they beat France 20-18 in a thriller in the early hours 🌹
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) July 11, 2019
Victory against France leaves England three points clear of New Zealand at the top of the table on 13 and England face the Black Ferns in their final game of the Series on Sunday.
Women’s Six Nations rivals France sit fourth in the standings after two defeats and a sole win in the tournament and they face last-place USA in their final game on Sunday.
Middleton added: “New Zealand will be hurting from their defeat against France. They’re world champions and it’s always going to be a tough game when you play against them.
“We’re going to have to regroup and dust ourselves down, but one thing we won’t be short of is spirit.”
France, full of confidence following their win against the Black Ferns on Saturday, stunned England when a cross-field kick found Banet who went over, but after Amber Reed had a try disallowed for incorrect grounding, Smith took the ball off the back of a scrum and sprinted around the outside to score for England.
Boujard’s darting run restored France’s lead and current world player of the year Jessy Tremouliere knocked over two penalties for a 18-5 French half-time lead.
England hit back through almost identical tries when Harrison’s cross-field kick bounced for Scarratt to drop down on and then the same combination proved a success again when another Harrison high kick was taken out of the air by Scarratt and taken over the line.
With eight minutes to go Scarratt then kicked a 25-metre penalty to give the England the lead, which they held onto despite intense French pressure.