Here’s Rob Kitson with his report from a sunny Twickenham. That was loads of fun. I hope you had as much fun as I did. Who cares about women’s rugby, they ask? A record crowd and millions watching on TV have provided a definitive answer. And when the entertainment is as good as that, I reckon a whole lot more will get on board.
Catch you next time.
England are grand slam champions! Marlie Packer hoists the trophy aloft. It was tight at the end but they are deserving winners.
Sarah Hunter is brining out the trophy that will soon be hoisted by Marlie packer.
Here’s the grand slam winning captain, Marlie Packer. Does she like the sound of that?
Yeaaaah! The girls put everything out there today, I’m super proud. Every player in the squad has played a part. It’s amazing.
France came at us. We knew we would have a tough game. They’ve grown over the tournament and played the full 80 minutes.
[Middleton] just did a team talk and he had me in tears. He’s just been amazing.
Super proud moment. We want to be World Cup champions in 2025.
Here’s the player of the match, Sadia Kabeya:
It’s been absolutely amazing. It’s been an amazing tournament and today it all came together.
It was definitely a game of two halves. They gave it to us but we stuck to it and kept to the game plan.
There is no ceiling for us. The sky is the limit for us.
FULL-TIME! England 38-33 France
What a game. History made with a record crowd. The Middleton era comes to an end with another grand slam win. What a brilliant advert for the women’s game. England bossed the first half. France dominated the second. In the end it was just five points in it.
TRY! England 38-33 France (Banet, 80)
Oh what could have been if France never folded in the first half. They’ve been brilliant in this second period. They won the scrum penalty under England’s poles, played it quick and got it, eventually, to Banet who dived over for a score that closes the gap but it won’t be enough. The conversion is in off the post.
79 min: Knock on. Kabeya named player of the match. Fair play. 14 carries. 20 tackles. Over 100m made. Unreal.
78 min: Vernier floats a wonderful pass out to the right wing. Arbez is having an influence too. She’s through a half gap and is running up field. France tap and go from a penalty and look to exploit an overlap on the left. England close the space. France are on fire. Still they drive forward.
TRY! England 38-26 France (Gros, 76)
That’s a fourth for France. Gros bursts over from close range. Too little too late though.
75 min: Kabeya comes off with Talling replacing her. France win the line-out but can’t form the maul. Instead they have to search for cracks from open play.
74 min: Penalty for France in the scrum. They’re celebrating with gusto! They go to the corner. Five out.
72 min: Banet gets around her marker and then offloads for Filopon in support. France are building again inside England’s 22. Vernier is involved but there’s a knock-on again. So frustrating from a French point of view.
71 min: France tear up the field. Chambon sprinting with everything she has after a delicious first phase move creates the space in midfield. Chambon is away after collecting a basketball style offload but Breach hunts her down and makes a diving tackle to shove her into touch. Great rugby all round.
70 min: WOW! I thought for all money that Marlie Packer had scored off another rumbling maul. Instead she’s been held up by the substitute Arbez. Talk about fighting til the end! So France clear with a drop-goal and will have the feed after England knock-on.
69 min: France do well to defend the maul. It crab sideways before breaking. Kabeya darts but there’s another penalty. England go to the corner again.
A spate of substitutions. Will get to those soon.
68 min: Still more than two converted tries the difference so France will have to score ASAP if we’re to call this a comeback. But they knock-on after the restart and England attack down the left. They get a penalty after France hold on. Rowland nudges to the corner. Another maul coming up five metres out.
TRY! England 38-21 France (Escudero, 66)
France go short in the line-out and maul. Not with the same grunt that England showed but they have the ball and so can shove a second time. This time they find a crack in the defence and Escudero can touch down. Tremouliere’s spiralling kick goes over.
63 min: England’s work at the ruck has been so much better than France’s. As I type that France pinch the ball and then win a penalty after and England player takes too long to roll away.
62 min: England with that same spring in their step after the try. Kabeya moving it on with a good carry.
TRY! England 38-14 (Davies, 60)
Penalty. Kick to the corner. Clean line out to the middle. The maul forms. It drives forwards. Davies comes up with the ball after scoring a try.
It’s a simple formula but it works more often than not. Rowland skews her conversion wide.
59 min: Dow does well to wriggle out of a tackle. Llorens doesn’t roll away and England can kick to the corner. Maul loading.
58 min: Davies brushes off Vernier’s stiff challenge. Aldcroft is hammered by Menager. Heard gets over the gainline with a carry. Water is wet.
57 min: Another good run from Vernier. Tremouliere’s nothing kick hands possession back. She’s really been off the boil today.
57 min: Beckett off for Cleal who has a point to prove.
TRY! England 33-14 France (Vernier, 56)
Well then. Vernier’s side-step has sold Lucy Packer and she has a clear run to the line. It was seemingly from nothing. Just off the base of a ruck, she picked the ball up, shimmied and sauntered in to score under the posts.
55 min: France tap and go from five out. They overplay it and the chance is gone. Bourdon goes back to clean up and does brilliantly, weaving her way through several players to keep it alive. Tremouliere’s cross kick is accurate but doesn’t move the team forward.
54 min: Penalty for France. Sustained pressure and constant niggling means Marlie Packer must now talk to her players. Kabeya again the guilty party for standing in an offside position. Team warning. France have been blown away at times but they haven’t helped themselves with sloppiness in the final third.
53 min: France’s line-out isn’t clean but they keep the ball. Escudero carries well. Menager bumps off Heard with a stiff charge. France about 7m out. England holding firm. Vernier misses a good pass from Tremouliere and the chance goes begging. Nope, they have it again. We’re now well into double digit phase count.
52 min: They’re showing a replay of a ferocious tackle from Beckett on Feleu. That was meaty!
50 min: England defend with great physicality. No joy for France in the close exchanges. France do win a penalty after a rare lapse from Ksabeya.
49 min: Botterman and MacDonald are both off. Breach and Carson are on.
TRY! England 33-7 France (Boulard, 48)
France score! It’s a good finish from the fullback Boulard who bursts through a double challenge from Kildunne and MacDonald after stepping off her left foot. From the back of a maul on the opposite end of the field, swift passing and good retention on the ground moved the ball at pace. The conversion is good too. Is this a comeback?
47 min: Correction, Packer was offside. Either way, France have the line-out and choose to mail. They make ground before Bourdon shovels it on. There’s space on the left. Building nicely…
47 min: Slick move from France off the back of a scrum but it doesn’t really go anywhere. England’s defence is very strong. Marlie Packer gives away a needless penalty by interfering with Bourdon before the ball was properly out of the ruck.
47 min: Heard is immense. She gathers the ball on her heels because the pass isn’t a good one. Even from a standing start she manages to get over the gainline.
46 min: Tremouliere is not having a good game. Her nothing kick hands the ball to Dow
45 min: France get ready for a double switch but must first contend with a scrum. They win the penalty. Not sure why exactly. Looked like England were dominant there.
43 min: Kebeya with another strong carry. England aren’t quite finding their cohesion just yet. A few passes are falling into space. MacDonald does well to keep the ball alive near the touchline. There’s a knock-on. Aitchison couldn’t hold on after wrapping around Bern.
42 min: There’s a penalty for not releasing and France tap and go quickly with Vernier. England steal it and now it’s England running the ball from deep.
41 min: Tremouliere is back on the field. France on the attack. A good offload to Bourdon sees her romp upfield.
We’re back. More of the same from England will see them cruise home. Can France rally?
It’s been brutal, that’s for sure.
HALF-TIME: England 33-0 France
At first it looked as if France were going to upset the party. They were the dominant force for the first 17 minutes and should have scored twice. But England rallied, defended well and stole the odd ball. Then Dow scored against the run of play and its been one way traffic since. Name on the trophy.
TRY! England 33-0 France (Aldcroft, 40)
Ruthless. Just utterly ruthless. Every England player who breaks through the gap has a runner in support. Every ruck is cleaned out and every pass is sticking. An offload under pressure finds Aldcroft against the grain, she steps and then pins her ears back to score a blockbuster fifth.
40 min: Lovely from England. Strong scrum, down the line, beautiful spinning passes, 20m gained. MacDonald and Rowland involved. Heard with a good carry and pass. Bern and Botterman doing bits. This is lovely to watch.
39 min: France work a clever routine off the back of the scrum but yet again can’t make it stick. A handling error in the tackle stops that play.
38 min: A good response from France. Berthoumieu carries well on two occasions but they spill the ball. Disappointing after working their way to a good position.
PENALTY TRY! England 26-0 France
36 min: And a yellow card for the prop Bernadou. She was unquestionably in an offside position as she tackled Lucy Packer on the line. There were questions around the other French players. Would they have prevented the score? The officials didn’t think so which means England have their bonus point, France are down to 13 women and this is getting messy for those in blue.
36 min: Could be a penalty try loading. Bernadou has possibly come in from an offside position.
36 min: A great punt from Kildunne means Bourdon must mop up with her heels on her own try line. Kildunne chases and puts pressure on Boulard and England steal the ball away. They’re on the attack. They’re almost in for a fourth try as Lucy Packer darts from close range. She knocks on as Bernadou makes a desperate tackle.
35 min: That is remarkable defensive work from the captain. No try. If France do come back to win it they’ll have their skipper to thank.
Tell you what. That is exceptional work from the French captain, Forlani. I think she’s prevented the grounding by holding Davies up and getting her body under the ball.
35 min: Davies crashes over from close range! They’ll check this but I think it’s good.
34 min: England are swarming up field now. They’re moving it with greater zip and running with newfound intensity. Kebeya, that human wrecking ball, finds ground. Beckett charges. Suddenly they’re five out. Botterman takes it ti within a metre.
TRY! England 19-0 France (Matthews, 33)
Simple as. Another brutal scrum has the French pack moving backwards. Mathews sniffs the chance, picks the ball up at the back of that set piece and crashes over the score. Rowland can kick this conversion over with her eyes closed and England are now in firm control of this with one hand on the trophy.
32 min: England opt to scrum five metres out right under the poles.
YELLOW! France (Tremouliere, 32)
Heard has space in front of her but slips just as she is about to straighten. The chance is there again with an overlap brewing on the right. Tremouliere sticks an arm out but knocks on. Rules are rules and that’s a clear yellow as it most definitely preventing a chance to score.
31 min: The line-out is good and England are now on the front foot. Kildunne takes it into the 22 on the right wing. Kabeya and Heard each make ground. Two metres out.
29 min: England finding greater cohesion now. Their backline passing isn’t gaining ground but at least the passes are sticking. A late tackle on Packer from Feleu means England can clear. Replays show that was very, very late. Not smart from the French lock.
27 min: Maybe Botterman is knocking on deliberately just so she can scrum. England pack down and win their second penalty in a row. Botterman getting the plaudits.
27 min: Botterman knocks on the restart. That’s the second one England have botched.
TRY! England 12-0 France (M Packer, 25)
Brutal! Marlie Packer cannot be stopped. She won’t be stopped. She bulldozes over tacklers at will. She’s involved earlier in the move with a pop pass of the shoulder that is then worked to Heard who breaks a challenge and opens space. Packer calls for it on the shoulder run and then bruises her way to the line. Rowland converts.
23 min: Aldcroft disrupts the French throw but Bourdon cleans it up. She later box kicks and MacDonald fields well. She’s moving OK now. Vernier wraps up Rowland in midfield. Kabeya burrows under a tackle. Heard runs onto it at speed…
23 min: The line-out isn’t straight. :/ That’s frustrating.
22 min: HUGE scrum from England. France with the feed but they’re peddling backwards under monstrous pressure from the English pack. They win a penalty and send it out for a line-out on the French 22.
21 min: Clean ball of the back of the scrum has Heard run into space and then pop a ball back against the grain. They get into French territory but Heard can’t hold on under pressure so possession changes again. France with the scrum inside their own territory.
20 min: Tremouliere’s kick is too long and goes beyond the dead ball line. Meanwhile MacDonald is limping. Breach is warming up. Scrum for England 10m from the halfway line.
19 min: England make a mess of the restart so France have the line-out on the right inside the 22. It goes to the back and it’s off the top at pace. Boulard has the ball on the opposite wing. They need a response.
18 min: The conversion is missed. There’s a pause while MacDonald gets attention. It was her cutting line that gave Rowland options and it was her pass to Dow that unleashed the winger. She’s back on her feet.
TRY! England 5-0 France (Dow, 17)
One chance. One try. Sensational. It’s come completely against the run of play. A scrum deep in their own territory ends with a try at the other end. Heard on a dummy run off the back of the set piece creates space for Rowland to exploit She charges 30m up field. MacDonald and then Dow have the ball and the winger turns on the after burners to score a brilliant try.
15 min: Marlie Packer and then Bern make headway after a clean line-out. But England can’t keep the ball and must defend again in their own territory. France spin down the line and Banet runs straight into and then over Kildunne after a strong fend.
14 min: Forlani collects the line-out at the front and the maul forms but is held back. So they spin out left. Short charges from several players go nowhere. Botterman gets over an isolated runner and comes up with a turnover penalty. France have blown two big chances.
13 min: The penalty is given for a dangerous tackle. I think Lucy Packer is lucky not to see yellow there. France nudge out for a line-out within touching distance of the try line.
13 min: A clever box kick from Bourdon gives Banet something to chase in the corner. It bounces and the French winger jumps to gather. Lucy Packer could be in trouble for taking her out while in the air.
12 min: France line-out on the 22. It’s messy but they keep the ball. All very cagey in the tight channels.
11 min: Rowland has kicked straight out after straying outside the 22. Soft error.
10 min: England just can’t escape from their own 22. They have the ball and eventually find Aitchison who manages to clear beyond the halfway line.
9 min: First scrum. England’s pack is 100kg heavier but they move backwards. Matthews picks up and goes direct. Aicthison’s kick is partially charged down so France have it back in the 22. A massive tackle from Kabeya halts momentum. Still France have it. England’s defence is holding and they steal it. Packer (who else) comes away with it.
8 min: Big carry from Feleu. France camped in England’s 22. Bernadou getting her head down and going direct. Tremouliere cuts back against the grain and knocks-on under pressure from Heard.
7 min: An accurate throuw to the middle of the line-out means France can set their maul. It splinters and England turn the ball right under their posts. Brilliant work on the floor. Aitchison’s clearing kick doesn’t find touch. France come right back at them.
6 min: Another French penalty. England pinned for holding on. Davies guilty this time. Hermet with a great tackle. France go to the corner.
5 min: Oh wow. That was poor from Tremouliere. On a favourable angle and within range, she shunts her penalty kick across the face of the posts.
4 min: Strong carry from Escudero. Bourdon controlling the tempo from 9. Brosseau busts through a challenge. Boulard nudges a grubber ahead but it’s well fielded by Kildunne. They come back for a penalty. Aldcroft guilty for not rolling away.
2 min: More kick tennis. Neither side wanting to run it. MacDonald gets caught under a ball and so England return from deep. Tremouliere catches and does run this time. France with the ball inside England territory. Boulard breaks from fullback. Building nicely down the left for France.
1 min: A couple of kicks each. Rowland puts it out on the halfway line and France have the ball. It’s clean and away it spins down the backline.
PEEEEP! History made. My fellow Saffa Aimee Barrett-Theron is the ref and gets us going. England in white, France in blue. Here, we, GO!
Lots of focus on Rowland at 13. She’s never played there and has only just returned from injury. But she’s such a good player. Can do it all. Here’s my early prediction. Really excited to see her rip up the midfield.
Now the anthems. A smattering of blue in the stands. There’ll be enough cheer if France start scoring.
Interesting to note the mismatch in terms of experience in that 10-12 channel. Almost everywhere else on the park, England have players with more games under their belt.
But between them, Holly Aitchison and Tatyana Heard have a mere 32 caps. Compare that with Jessy Tremouliere and Gabrielle Vernier who have over 100. Could be an intersting battle ground in midfield.
Now Middleton speaks:
I don’t think we could have trained any better this week. We’re good to go.
We’ve played them the past three four years and we’ve had some tight wins. We’ve just got to make sure we create opportunities.
[He laughs when asked about the driving maul] It’s part of our armoury. We’ve got to make sure we get in good positions and on the front foot. We’ve got the strategy group who know exactly what they want to do.
Now a stirring tribute to Simon Middleton, or “Midds” as the players call him, being shown on the Beeb.
Eights years at the helm. It’s hard to imagine how the RFU replace him.
The Beeb is currently showing some highlights from France’s campaign. “A team in transition,” says Sonia McLuaghlin.
It’ll be the final match for Jessy Tremouliere, a sparkling talent at 10 and the last of a golden generation.
Today’s winning captain will lift a brand new trophy. Thoughts on this one? I like it. Sleek. Classy. I’m a fan.
Less than 30 mins to go. Just confirmed by the BBC. 56,000 fans in Twickenham today. That’s a record for any women’s rugby match.
“It means the world to me,” says Maggie Alphonsi. “I never thought I see it happen.”
It’s hard not to oversell this. It really is just a wonderful occasion. Here’s the players’ view as they made their way to the stadium. What a feeling! Can you just imagine what’s going through heads?
“I think my heart is going to be absolutely pumping. It is the adrenaline it will bring and obviously most of the crowd will be behind England so I think that is something we really have to take confidence in and put on a good performance because that is what they are coming to see. We want to make it a good event so it can happen again and again in the future.”
So says England’s coach, Simon Middleton, who will leave his post after today’s game.
You can read more from a man who has always carried himself with integrity and grace in Sarah Rendell’s preview:
This was more than an hour before kick-off.
Le petit général revient!
There’s something about French scrumhalves. Everything revolves around the puppet master with 9 on their back and it’s great to see Pauline Bourdon return to the starting XV. Keeping her quiet will be key for England this afternoon.
France: Boulard; Banet, M Menager, Vernier, Llorens; Tremouliere, Bourdon; Brosseau, Sochat, Bernadou, Feleu, Forlani (c), Berthomieu, Hermet, Escudero.
Replacements: Riffonneau, Mwayembe, Khalfaoui, R Menager, Gros, Chambon, Arbez, Filopon.
England name formidable team
Marlie Packer leads a squad that has no weak point. Prop Hanna Botterman has overcame an injury scare and will bolster the scrum while Helean Rowland shifts to outside centre, a position that should suit her game just fine.
There’s pace to burn out wide and great zeal in the back row. Keep an eye on the rising star that is Sadia Kabeya. Poppy Cleall should cause damage off the bench as well.
England: Kildunne; Dow, MacDonald, Rowland, Heard; Aitchison, L Packer; Botterman, Davies, Bern, Aldcroft, Beckett, Kabeya, M Packer (c), Matthews.
Replacements: Powell, Carson, Muir, Cleal, Talling, Hunt, Reed, Breach.
In a parallel universe we wouldn’t be celebrating the size of the crowd. Over on another timeline it’s taken as a given that one of England’s most successful teams and a standard-bearer in their sport would play a title decider in front of 53,000 fans at the Home of RugbyTM.
But in this world, where female athletes have for so long fought for recognition and an equal footing, where they’ve had to battle discriminatory laws, sexist attitudes, suboptimal training facilities, insulting salary packages and lukewarm government support, the fact that these Red Roses take on France for the Six Nations crown in front of a record crowd for a women’s rugby match is something to celebrate.
Sing it from the roof tops! Tell your friends and family! Join the revolution! This is a landmark moment in a sport that has had a few over the past 18 months or so.
But when that opening whistle sounds, the focus will instantly shift from 56,000 to 15. This is an England team still hurting from the heartache of the World Cup final defeat against New Zealand and they’ll want to underline their supremacy on this side of the equator. A fourth grand slam win in five years will do just that.
France won’t be pushovers. Apart from one rusty performance in the opening round agains Italy, they’ve been imperious, swatting aside Ireland, Scotland and Wales. They’ve got their sights set on a grand slam win themselves.
This is a game that could echo through time and space but that also depends on the quality on the pitch. Thankfully these are two supremely gifted outfits and I’ve got little doubt that they’ll rise to the occassion.
In case it wasn’t clear, I’m absolutely buzzing for this.
If you are too, and you’d like to get in touch, please drop me a line either on Twitter or my email. It should be an absolute belter!
Kick-off at 1pm BST.