After England’s record 25th Test win in a row heading into the World Cup, fans thought it wouldn’t be too difficult to score another six and take the title.
Red Roses supporters received an early morning wake-up call after Joanna Grisez’s perfect rebound at the end of England’s pool game against France.
Grisez headed home Caroline Drouin’s shot, which found the flanker Gaelle Hermet and suddenly France were six points away from victory.
In the end England secured their 27th straight win with a 13-7 victory and strengthened their chances of qualifying for the quarter-finals as Group C winners.
But on another day, in a higher-stakes playoff game, it could have been a different story.
“That’s what I’ve been saying since I came here,” agreed England manager Simon Middleton.
“I understand where the favorites label is coming from, but I think too many people make us too big of favorites.
“If it’s one of the quarterfinals or a playoff, you’re one bounce off the ball from being on the plane home.
“That’s what happens when you get to the big games. Hopefully, it’s a reality check for everyone who probably made us more favorites than we were.”
“We doubted them” – French Hermet
A reality check for England fans, and a glimmer of hope for Red Rose title contenders France and New Zealand.
England face France again in the play-offs, and a win against hosts and holders New Zealand may also be necessary to win the trophy.
France captain Hermet believes weaknesses have been exposed in England’s victory.
“We have clearly challenged them,” he said. “We challenged them at the end.
“It was not the most important game of the competition. I want to tell them and I hope they will see us again soon.”
England have not lost since July 2019 and have been ranked number one in the world since November 2020, having now beaten France 11 times in a row.
But France’s impressive defense prevented the Red Roses from being as clinical as usual, as they repeatedly held up players on the try-line and struggled to convert their possession into scores.
Former England winger Ugo Monye sees the same cracks as Hermet.
“If they’re going to come out of New Zealand with the World Cup, this level of performance, if repeated, that might not happen,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“They’ve never been better prepared, but their execution has been a huge Achilles heel today.
“They have to make sure they don’t repeat this show, because if they do it after three weeks they can go home.”
“We don’t have to be the finished article now” – Hunter
Middleton said the match was a “barometer” of the level expected in the semi-finals and final.
What doesn’t knock you out of the World Cup makes you stronger, and England experimented in a game that was unlikely to cost either side in the quarter-finals.
Instead of relying on the lineout for tries that they have so often had over the past year, the Red Roses looked to break quickly from the ruck and find gaps on the edge.
In the end, their only try came from the back when center Emily Scarratt crossed, but captain Sarah Hunter suggested they would make up for it later in the tournament.
|The defenders have been beaten||5||23|
“We’ve had a very strong and successful driving maul, but teams will learn to defend that, so asking questions about the defense was put into diversity,” he said.
“We don’t have to be the finished article now. We don’t have to peak in the second game of the pool stage.
“You don’t want to have a high score and not try. It helps us learn about ourselves.
“We have to review, analyze and work on how to improve our performance for the next game.”