It was one of those days when the sun shone from dawn till dusk, a Super Saturday adorned with cloudless blue skies, a day when it felt good to be alive, and for brief moments a global pandemic seemed a world away.
Entering a rugby stadium wearing a mask, having your temperature checked and having to scan your attendance on a medical phone app reminds you that the past is a different country, and we are in, as the buzz phrase says “The new normal”.
Rugby without fans is like bacon without eggs, Laurel without Hardy or thunder without lightning, what a day it would have been had we been able to share it with the life blood of rugby, the spectators.
The final day of the 2021 Women’s Six Nations brought together England’s Red Roses and France in a winner takes all showdown at Twickenham Stoop.
For Jess Breach, Abbie Ward, Leanne Riley, Lagi Tuima, Vickii Cornborough, Amy Cokayne and Shaunagh Brown, this was familiar turf ,their home ground, the field of dreams where they have worn the Harlequins shirt with such pride and glory.
With a Grand Slam and the Six Nations title at stake, it would not have been a surprise if the match had been cagey and tight, but nothing could have been further from the truth.
In the warm Spring sunshine, that was more Montpellier than Middlesex, the two best teams in Europe produced a match that displayed the very best
With the match televised live on BBC 2 it was the most wonderful opportunity to showcase the women’s game to an audience that might not be aware of its glorious attributes.
It may not have been a try fest, but there was a brutality and a bite to this contest, you could hear the echo of the hits way up in the stands.
France matched England physically and it took 39 minutes to register the first score of the game ascPoppy Cleal went over from close range with only 30 seconds of the first half remaining. Emily Scarrett converted to give England a 7-0 lead at the interval.
France wing Cyrielle Banet’s favourite film is “Harry Potter and the order of the Phoenix”, but on this occasion the 26 year old French women could not provide provide her usual wizardry as defences continued to dominate.
France started the second half brightly, and reduced England’s lead to 7-3 on the 45th minute, with a penalty from Drouin, the hits if anything got bigger with both teams refusing to yield.
With 8 minutes left Drouin landed another penalty for France to bring them within one point of England, and it was here that the Red Roses showed their experience and tactical nous, playing the remainder of the match inside England “22”. The pressure they exerted earned them a simple penalty in front of the posts which Scarett converted to make the score 10-6 to England with only seconds remaining.
Many of the French women were in tears at the final whistle, it was a tough defeat to take and the battered bodies of both teams were testament to a glorious match that made any mention of gender totally irrelevant.
As England coach Simon Middleton mentioned in his post match interview “The physios are going to be very busy this week”.
England face France once again on Friday in Lille in a friendly, and after today’s bruising battle I use that term in its very loosest sense.