England extended their winning streak over France to nine games but in extraordinary circumstances.
With 62 minutes gone, the Stadium Lille Métropole was plunged into darkness as a result of floodlight failure. The decision was then made to call the match as a 17-15 win to England, the score when play was stopped standing. Before the lights went out, France’s brutal physicality in the opening stages pushed England backwards at the scrum. France hit the visitors hard going through the phases as well. The sustained pressure paid off at nine minutes as Maëlle Filopon found a pocket of space in defence to dot down the first try of the match.
It wasn’t long until England hit back and displayed what they could do in attack. Quick hands along with a huge, pinpoint pass from Emily Scarratt fed Abby Dow whose pace stunned France. She beat Jessy Trémoulière and ran a sensational line to score.
With less than 10 minutes before half-time, Zoe Harrison was shown a yellow card as she was in an offside position which led to her obstructing a pass from Pauline Bourdon. England were a player down and France capitalised to find their second score through Trémoulière, who couldn’t convert her own try. However, another incredible try from Dow meant England managed to go 14-12 up at the break.
An early French penalty opened the scoring in the second half and England added their own three-pointer just a few moments later.
The referee, Clara Munarini, had a card in hand once again as France’s Julie Annery was sent to the sin bin for dropping a knee on Poppy Cleall’s face as the England star held on to her leg. After a huge attacking effort from England, almost 10 minutes of play, they were unable to puncture the French defensive wall.
Fans may then have thought their TVs were on the blink as the picture went dark but in fact the floodlights went down. France will feel frustrated as they had the momentum with 18 minutes to play but the call was made.
The England captain, Sarah Hunter, said: “It’s a bit of a surprise when the lights went out and how long it would’ve taken to put on, it wasn’t feasible to play. Having said that we have won another game, stayed No 1 in the world which again, coming to France getting a win is what we set out to do.
“I’ve never experienced anything like that. Maybe at training at your club when the lights have gone off at 9pm but never in an international game. I think we had a lineout and we knew our policy. Get a lineout and kick and everyone still ran as you don’t know what the ref might do and they’d [France] get the ball back. So everyone kept in game mode but then obviously the ref stopped the game and blew the whistle.”
The head coach, Simon Middleton, said: “Bizarre. Just when you think the year can’t get any more bizarre it comes totally bizarre. It’s disappointing we couldn’t conclude the game how we wanted to.”
France: Trémoulière; Boujard, Filopon, Vernier, Pignot; Peyronnet (Imart, 53), Bourdon; Deshaye, Sochat, Bernadou (Joyeux, 50), Fall, N’Diaye, Annery, Hermet (capt), R Menager (Diallo, 61).
Tries: Filopon, Trémoulière Con: Trémoulière
England: Kildunne; Breach, Scarratt, McKenna, Dow; Harrison, Riley (MacDonald, 61); Cornborough (Botterman, 53) Cokayne, Brown (B Cleall, 53), Aldcroft, Millar-Mills, P Cleall (Beckett, 61), Fleetwood, Hunter (capt).
Tries: Dow (2) Con: Harrison, Scarratt
Referee: Clara Munarini