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Super Series Rd 4: 20-18 x2, England Triumphant, The Women Eagles Down Les Rouges

Photo Credit: England Rugby

For France Feminines this game likely meant more for them than their victory against the Black Ferns.  The victory against the Verns was huge as they had just suffered a loss to Canada where Les Rouges dominated them physically.  Their intent against England was to execute a similar game plan, be more physical, be more skillful.  For awhile, it worked.  Similar to how Canada pushed the Red Roses to the brink. 

Although Annick Hayraud stated that building for this tour wasn't too difficult as the squad had built some depth over time.  The unavailability of 7s players due to Olympic Qualification in Europe, it did give her side a few less weapons.  Then you add the injuries of Romane Menager and Safi N'Diaye and you're missing key pieces from your forwards as well. 

Yet, for awhile, they punished the Red Roses in a way that even Canada wasn't able to achieve.  Going up 18-5 in the first half with the great kicking game of Jessy Tremouliere, it was all about pressure.  Yet in the second half, even when the France Feminines had the ball in the right position to gain an advantage they'd knock on the ball or commit a penalty.  For Simon Middleton's squad it was similar to when they faced Canada.

At a certain point in a match, two things can take over depending on the level of both teams.  We can agree that both of these teams are highly talented.  But the experience of certain players amongst the Red Roses is more than any squad in this tournament.  Led Sarah Hunter, Natasha Hunt, and Emily Scarratt.  The Red Roses went to work.  When it mattered, they shut down the French Attack.  The contest at the break down was more than we've seen in awhile, the Red Roses took advantage of this forcing many turnovers.  Then, without a huge cushion like the French had against the Black Ferns, the Red Roses started going to work on attack. 

Emily Scarratt would score her first try at '49, bringing the score to 10-18.  Although she missed the conversion, after the restart the roses killed a significant portion of the clock with their possession.  And then, Middleton began making substitutions which provided the additional lift needed.  At '68, Scarratt went over the line a second time, also converting her try the Roses were within one at 17-18.  After the restart the Red Roses returned to the march, France committed another penalty and Scarratt put the Roses on top 20-18. 

Although the France Feminines would threaten, the Red Roses stout defense would hold for the next 8 minutes achieving victory.  Red Roses are 3-0 in the Super Series heading into what will be the tournament final against the Black Ferns when the tournament table is taken into consideration.

Emil Henrich fends Sophie De Goede/Photo Credit: USA Rugby

After two harrowing defeats, the USA Women Eagles had a bye to recharge and train up for Canada.  Canada played three physical matches coming away with a strong victory against the French and a close loss to England, the Canada women looked to finish their tournament strong.

And so the dance began, Olivia De Merchant scored her first try at '5.  The young No 8. Sophie De Goede kicked the conversion putting the Canadians up 7-0.  After a fierce exchange following the restart, the Women Eagles gained possession and pushed down the field.  Canada committed a penalty that gave Alev Kelter a shot on goal bringing the score 7-3. 

With the way the US scrum was folding under pressure to the Canadian pack it looked like it would be a long day at the office.  The Canadian answered Kelter's penalty a short while later as they marched down the pitch, Olivia De Merchant seized a loose ball off the ruck three meters out and powered over the line for her second try. De Goede would miss the conversion but didn't make the same mistake on her next shot when she scored a penalty at '23 pushing the Canadian lead to twelve. 

Again, the contests at the breakdown were allowed to happen, the US gained possession and went on the march.  When the Eagles had quick ball and were skillful, the unstructured attack worked beautifully.  They marched down the pitch, 5 meters out, Ashlee Byrge hit waiting first receiver Emily Henrich who pummeled through four Canadian defenders for her first international try.  bringing the score to 15-8.  Canada would answer with a penalty by De Goede to close out the half with the Northern side up 18-8.

To open the second half the Women Eagles and Canada continued to trade possession, going collision for collision, but the defenses held.  The US Scrum settled mid-way through the third quarter as Fresh props would rotate out.  Ashleey Byrge and Olivia Ortiz also traded the bench bibs as Coach Rob Cain wanted his attack to continue playing at the pace it had finished the first half.  Ortiz picked up where Byrge had left off, running to the breakdown and producing quick ball.

Moments later, with possession at mid-field, Ortiz hits Kelter at pace. This caught the Canadian defense unawares as Kelter used her burst, her pace, and footwork, putting the Canadians through the shredder to score a try from 50-meters out.  Kelter, converting her own try the US were within three, 18-15 with 19 minutes to play. 

The US defense continued to hold, the Canadians began to buckle.  At the 70th minute Flanker Rachel Johnson surged with the ball inside the Canadian 22-meter line.  Ortiz produced quick ball out to Fly-Half Katana Howard who kicked to the corner.  Right Wing Kris Thomas attacked, snatching the ball in traffic and scoring a try to put the Women Eagles up 18-20 over the Canadians. 

Then, the US defense had to settle in, gain possession, and grind out the clock.  With a final scrum after regulation, the US maintained possession, running two phases, Ortiz passed the ball deep to Kelter who kicked it out to end the match.

-Aaron Castro