France evened up the series with the USA Women's 15s team, winning the second of three tests 27-25 tonight at Oxnard College (Calif.). The Eagles played a solid third quarter, lending a glimpse into their potential, but the lasting impression is one of penalties and unforced errors.
The French played the vast majority of the first half in the USA’s end and much of that favorable territory came at the hands of the USA. A misplayed kick, handling error or penalty routinely returned possession to the French. While the visitors were by no means disciplined themselves – they incurred an unacceptable amount of scrum penalties – the French continually drew kicking opportunities near the posts. By game’s end, France flyhalf Aurelie Bailon had five converted penalties (and a conversion) to her credit.
Those USA penalties not only affected the scoreboard but they also dampened the Eagles’ impressive second-half start, which saw the team pile on 15 points to tie up the game 18-all. The Eagles were owning possession and playing with conviction, but every time France had hands on the ball in USA territory – whistle! A USA penalty and three points to the French.
That’s how Les Bleus first got on the board. The teams were both struggling with continuity early on, but six minutes in, Bailon was hitting her first penalty from about 30 meters out. France returned to the USA’s 22 meter on the very next possession, and a familiar tactic caught the American defense off guard.
Akin to France’s first try on Friday, Bailon sent a flat cross-field kick to an unguarded teammate on the sideline, making the corner try an easy one, 8-0 with about 10 minutes gone.
The USA put three points on the board shortly afterward, as the Eagles worked down field despite hotly contested breakdowns. The French were throwing extra personnel into the rucks, trying to slow down the ball and disrupt scrumhalf Carrie White. Just as tensions reached a crescendo, the French erred in the ruck and Sadie Anderson hit the penalty, 8-3.
Whenever a team scores, the momentum is up for grabs. France was careful to keep up the pressure in the breakdowns and hope for American errors. Les Bleus were rewarded as they turned over the ball on the USA’s 22 meter, then worked tight, quick hands to put No. 8 Safi Ndiaye into space. Ndiaye pushed off Ashley Kmiecik on the wing and was just dragged down at the tryline. The USA was penalized for offsides in the subsequent breakdown, and Bailon made it 11-3.
Still cruising, France should have scored with another cross-kick to an unguarded winger, but Amanda Street covered the expanse quickly and pushed her into touch. The Americans knocked on their lineout, which was followed by three blown-up scrums. On the fourth, however, Ndiaye picked from the back and shot through the line. The defense had their eyes on the breakdown and were flowing strongside, instead of lining up against the four or five French on the weakside. A quick pass out of the ruck and the USA could hardly react as the try ran in down the line. A fantastic conversion from the sideline made it 18-3.
On the very next possession, again, France was on the USA’s 22 meter due to a mishandled kick. On the bright side, the Americans unleashed a fierce defense both on the tryline and out of the ruck. So much so that the retreating French backline bobbled the ball into the Eagles’ possession.
But like much of the first half, the Eagles couldn’t make good on the opportunities given to them. The ball bobbled all over the place, and if it wasn’t for a penalty, the USA would have been dotting down the ball in their own try zone. As the game progressed, the Eagles were 50/50 on turnover ball – sometimes the offense attacked quickly and smartly; other times a desperate lob was hurled over a defender’s head, killing the opportunity to build.
What followed was the USA’s highlight. The third-quarter team looked familiar, as the Americans were ready to overcome the point deficit and win, just like Friday. The backline showed that they could work the width, too, as the French defense came up quickly to shut it down in the centers, and flyhalf Anderson deftly worked the ball wide to Kmiecik, who tore into open space. She side-stepped her way through a bevy of defenders and was pulled down at the tryline. The forwards went to work on the fringe, and lock Sharon Blaney dotted down the team’s first try.
Then, inexplicably, Anderson opted for a dropkick conversion on the only try that was relatively close to the center of the field (for both teams). She missed it. In the end, those two points would have given the USA the tie, 18-8.
The team was still cruising and quickly back on France’s 22 meter after a nice penalty kick to touch from Anderson. Unfortunately there was a knock-on in the lineout, necessitating a French scrum, which turned out to be a boon to the USA. When France wasn’t being penalized in the set piece, they were solid and able to drive the Americans backward. But that was the exception, and on the second engage, France committed another penalty in Anderson’s range, 18-11.
The following score was a nice team try Hope Rogers came on for Jess Davis, and her first touch during her first cap saw the recent Penn State grad plow through the fringe. The nice go-forward helped centers Megan Bonny and Anne Peterson connect in space, and then a French penalty settled the USA in France territory. No. 8 Kate Daley drew a penalty through which White quick-tapped, and once again, the forwards put their collective head down around the ruck. Daley was the happy recipient of this dive-over try, and Anderson’s conversion made it 18-all.
This was the turning point. There was every reason to believe that the USA was going to continue building, as the French grew complacent. But then old habits from the first half reared their ugly heads, and the USA ushered the visitors back into the game, giving up penalties (and a yellow card) to the French every time play centered in front of their posts. Bailon added three penalties to pull ahead 27-18.
The Eagles kept their heads up, though, and with no time on the clock, Blaney got her second try of the game. Peterson was key in that evolution, proving to be an excellent playmaker with good field vision. Anderson slotted a fantastic sideline conversion, 27-25, and then the whistle sounded.
The two sides will play their final test on Friday, June 14, deciding which nation wins the three-test series.
USA: 1 Naima Reddick, 2 Kitt Wagner, 3 Jessica Davis, 4 Sarah Walsh, 5 Sharon Blaney, 6 Mel Denham, 7 Kristin Zdanczewicz, 8 Kate Daley, 9 Carrie White, 10 Sadie Anderson, 11 Ashley Kmiecik (c), 12 Anne Peterson, 13 Erin Overcash, 14 Amanda Street, 15 Meya Bizer.
France: 1 Hélène Ezanno, 2 Gaëlle Mignot (c), 3 Elodie Portaries, 4 Sandra Rabier, 5 Assa Koïta, 6 Laëtitia Grand, 7 Manon Andre, 8 Safi Ndiaye, 9 Yanna Rivoalen, 10 Aurélie Bailon, 11 Laëtitia Esteves, 12 Lucille Godiveau, 13 Sandra Metier, 14 Laurelin Fourcade, 15 Audrey Parra.