Friday night’s friendly match between England and France was only in name, repeating last week’s lackluster Six Nations final. After beating France last week by fours, Captain Sarah Hunter described France as “a wounded animal”. At stake, the pride and the first place of England in the world ranking. Take out the popcorn and turn off the lights.
French scrum-half Pauline Bourdon was pushing an impressive pace of play before a quick kick and a few heavy throws forward took France within striking distance of the England line. Looping over a scrum, Bourdon received the ball from a front basket to play center Maëlle Filopon in a carefully orchestrated half-gap. She would go more for the first points of the match every nine minutes.
Four minutes later, England winger Abby Dow received a failed looping pass from center Emily Scaratt, an arc line saw her slip away from the grip of fullback Jessy Tremouliere. Dow’s pace got her on the try line without a hitch and England were on par after Zoe Harrison added the extras.
After several dominant scrimmages, France saw the reward for its efforts. Playing a base advantage Bourdon sent Trémouliere on a short ball through England’s defense. Bread and butter, but France missed the conversion, leaving England 2 ahead.
If Dow had cast a spell on Tremouliere to score England’s first, she was set to hypnotize half a dozen French players to score her second. Feilding a tough kick on his 10-yard line rounding France’s number eight, then phantom in front of several defenders with abandon.
Dow checked the retreating Bumblebee and went over five. Scaratt took England two forward, brushing aside unusual hiccups in the final.
The second half went well where the first left us. France continue to dominate defense and scrum, but England have refused to be bullied in the park. England’s solid kicking game never left them on the back foot for too long and after a penalty apiece England were 15-17.
A fight where Poppy Cleall improperly clung to Julie Annery’s leg saw the French player receive a yellow card after putting a knee to Cleall’s face. Reminding us that the game retains some of the tit-for-tat villainy of the amateur era.
If the final match was two fighters dancing around the ring but never delivering a convincing blow, it was France and England that went to the feet. If you were looking for clichés around women’s rugby then this game dispelled them.
And just as the fans rubbed their hands to finish in the stands, the lights went out.
In a situation that comically resembles the willingness of MC staff to turn off the spotlights during the spotlight games’ closing shifts, the lights went out at 10:30 a.m. local time. But it was not the intoxicating heights of college sport, but an international in its own right. Maybe someone forgot to put 50p in the meter. I couldn’t comment.
England have claimed the well-being of the players will be in jeopardy after a long interval, but are safe knowing that after 60 minutes the result is held. Finally, after an apathetic discussion, it was decided that the game would be over immediately.
Many consider England to be the only professional women’s team in the world. However, the players sacrifice their body, their best days of youth and career to don the white jersey. In return, players receive a salary package commensurate with the average Durham graduate while swimming against entrenched resistance and misogyny to ply their trade.
It wasn’t just a kick to the teeth, it was a kick to the back.
If the success of the base game depends in part on the “see it like that” effect, unions must not only invest in better player setups, but fight for the coverage and respect the game deserves. The whole storyline felt like a microcosm for the struggles that women’s rugby has struggled with for decades.
If no one can see what’s on offer, how will fans and potential players know how good the product can be?
Women’s sport still lacks visibility, quality and quantity. England’s first Six Nations Easter game against Scotland was shown on the red button while BBC 2 viewers were treated to a repeat of Flog It in 2014.
Still, the Friday night centerpiece didn’t have any pre-game or halftime studio coverage. An unimaginable situation for a person familiar with the normal fanfare of men’s rugby. The BBC did not even have a correspondent in the stadium when the lights went out, choosing instead to broadcast online only with remote commentary from London.
Positively, the social media grunts on the women’s rugby coverage and the #ICare response were put to bed when 600,000 people logged in to watch the Women’s Six Nations Final on BBC2. Compared to BT’s 205,000 poultry for the Premiership lockdown semi-finals.
Build it and they will come.
Image: John Walton via Creative Commons