It wasn’t the most inspired performance, but as the adage goes: A win’s a win. And that’s what the USA Women National 15s Team did tonight with their 13-10 victory over France. The win did more than set a positive tone for the three-test series that will evolve in the course of a week; it also salves the sting of two losses suffered at the hands of Les Bleus last fall.
The first half was frustrating for the USA. Their backs could hardly go two passes before turning over the ball, and it might have made it to the wing once. The forwards did well with ball retention but the ball was slow out of the rucks and France had little trouble covering the American's north-south offense. France, on the other hand, was able to produce quick ball and switched fields well to catch the USA adjusting slowly.
France was more adventurous and their first try resulted from a risky move. Battering inside the USA’s 22 meter, a flat cross-kick from flyhalf Agricole was sent to wing Heguy, who was unguarded on the opposite touchline. Ryan Carlyle was there to wrap her up, but fullback Jessy Tremouliere looped into support for the offload and scored in the corner, 5-0.
France’s boot continued to put the visitors into favorable territory, and their second try evolved after scrumhalf and captain Marie-Alice Yahe peeled off a ruck and chipped down to the USA five meter. Sadie Anderson was there to field it but instead of clearing, tried to run the ball out. She side-stepped into touch and set up a French lineout, which the visitors subsequently mauled into the try zone, and hooker Juanno Sainlo dotted down, 10-0.
The game was far from out of reach, and the French handicapped themselves with a bevy of penalties. Les Bleus were particularly sloppy when defending in their own end, and the USA got several shots at goal as a result. Anderson put one of three (Hannah Stolba attempted one) first-half penalties over the crossbar, making it 10-3 into the break. Penalties played an even bigger role in the second half, which worked out nicely for the rejuvenated American team that took the field.
The USA took a page out of France’s playbook and ramped up their kicking game in the second half. Both sides sent several kicks in front of the 22 meter straight into touch, but for the most part, the Eagles won that battle in the second 40. Scrumhalf Jossy Tseng box-kicked like crazy from the base, testing the fortitude of the French back three, and it paid off.
The Eagles made it 10-6 after inside center Megan Bonny scooped up an errant French pass and Stolba kicked nearly to the France tryline. The subsequent clearing kick didn’t make touch, and as the ball worked back to the middle of the field, the USA received another penalty. Flanker Lynelle Kugler quick-tapped and bolted toward the line – the most promising dash all game – but the tap wasn't at the mark and the play was called back. It was an easy slot for Anderson and the Eagles were down by less than a try.
The game had yet to turn, however, as France launched a feverish counterattack, getting back inside the USA’s 22 meter quickly. A handful of fortunate – for the USA – mistakes called back two would-be tries.
Instead of sustaining a third attempt at the line, the Eagles took advantage of a startling amount of successive penalties to get into France’s end quickly. The forwards got a lot of success with their quick picks around the base, and the French fringe couldn't regroup quickly enough. The pack kept at it until forward momentum stopped, and then Bonny and Erica Cavanaugh punched it up a little farther.
It seemed as if this particular series was going to end in a clearing kick, as the USA erred on a penalty play that spun through the backs’ hands and ended in a France scrum. But Les Bleus were penalized in the set piece and the Americans went back to work. Finally, prop Sarah Chobot bullied her way over the line for the Eagles’ only try. Anderson hit the conversion and the USA led 13-10.
The lead change buoyed the Eagles and they spent the majority of the remaining time on offense. Tseng kept kicking downfield, almost desperately, and was at the center of one of the game highlights. Trying to get out of France’s end, Tseng sent a high box-kick over the defense then appeared out of nowhere to pluck the ball out of the sky. The backs, too, showed signs of confidence, and Lynelle Kugler made sure to join for a line-pierce here and there.
The Eagles held onto the win, and although there are areas of concern, tonight’s win is a good start for the USA. They know they can compete, adjust and win, and now they can build and push a less restricted game.
The teams' next test comes on Tuesday, June 11 at 8 p.m. ET. Stay tuned for player and coach feedback.
Referee : Nicky INWOOD
Pens: Anderson 2
Lineup: Anderson – Cavanaugu, Bizer, Bonny, Carlisle – (o) Stolba, (m) Tjeng – Turley, Kugler, Bridges – Kinsella, Walsh – Burke, Wagner, Chobot
Reserves : Augustin, Davis, Reddick, Zoanczewicz, Daley, White, Peterson
Lineup: Tremoulière – Rousseau, Métier, Godiveau, Heguy – (o) Agricole, (m) Yahé (cap) – Pin, André, Diallo – Corson, Rabier – Chobet, Sainlo, Arricastre
Reserves : Mignot, Ezanno, Portaries, Koïta, Grand, Rivoalen, Fourcade