- Three first-half tries see England Students defeat France Universities at Richmond
- Captain Will Warden proud of his side's resolve in tight win
England Students 25 France Universities 23
Photo: Getty Images
Three first-half tries steered England Students to victory in their first international of the season against France Universities at Richmond FC’s Athletic Ground.
England led 22-17 at half time in an entertaining match and withstood the pressure from a powerful France scrum to set themselves up nicely for next week’s trip to face Portugal’s national side in Lisbon followed by a rematch with the French in Versailles later in March.
France Universities had the lead after two minutes with the first of two tries by full back Maxime Lebouhris, from a long pass by Steve Barry after flanker Athur Roulin had picked up from an England put-in to a wheeled scrum on the right.
Fly half Pierre Bernard, who has had first-team experience with Castres Olympique, converted but England were level in the seventh minute.
Matt Smith (UWIC) caught a lineout, Adam Bellamy (Bristol) drove on a few metres and fly half Chris Reakes looped round Alex Cheesman (Oxford) to spread the play left to right. It went left again through the hands of Russell Weir (Loughborough), Reakes and Bristol’s Tom Mitchell to Bath’s Sam Miller who rounded his man Lucas Dupont to score at the corner, and Reakes converted.
Bernard kicked a penalty after 14 minutes and a dangerous crosskick by scrum half Nicolas Bezy was almost collected by second row Jean Sousa out wide.
And Lebouhris had his second try in the 18th minute, finishing off a good run by prop Kevin Kervarec, with Bernard converting for a 17-7 lead.
With the French exerting plenty of strength and technique in the scrum, England were thankful for the forward momentum given to them around the fringes by back rowers Alex Waddingham (Loughborough), Tom Sargeant (Exeter) and Richard de Carpentier (UWIC).
Sargeant took a neck-high tackle from Bernard that brought a close-range penalty kicked by Reakes to trim France’s lead, and a strong second quarter for England included their second and third tries.
Second row and captain Will Warden (Loughborough) set up an unstoppable lineout drive with Bellamy scoring at the base after 30 minutes.
Seven minutes later Bellamy tapped a scrum free kick and made a few metres before the ball went outside where Sargeant was waiting among the threequarters to pick a great gap through the French defence. The flanker had De Carpentier on his shoulder to run in a fine try from the 22 and Reakes converted to give England the lead for the first time, 22-17.
Bernard’s penalty after a scrum gave France the opening points of the second half but Reakes replied from 40 metres in the 58th minute to restore England’s five-point advantage, and Bezy missed a penalty soon afterwards, with Bernard having been replaced.
Sargeant tidied up a lineout beyond the tail to have another storming run in the 71st minute but there was a knock-on in the support and France cleared their lines.
Bernard’s replacement Gilles Bosch kicked a penalty with four minutes remaining to ensure a tense finish but England held out to reverse last year’s 35-22 defeat away in Riom.
Captain Warden proud of his side in tight win
Photo: Getty Images
Will Warden, the England Students captain, said: "We may have been asleep for the first few minutes and allowed the French an early try but I was proud of the effort after that.
"The back row linked very well for our third try and Mike Macfarlane added some dynamism off the bench to keep that effort going in the second half.
"As a pack of forwards we might have given our scrum half Russell Weir a bit more protection but he had a great game, and marshalled us well.
"I played in the defeat by France last year so this was a bit of sweet revenge and it tees up the match in a few weeks over there but we will celebrate this and start thinking about Portugal."
Team manager Pete Drewett added: "There was a lot of talent in both sides and some of the rugby was outstanding with good offloads and lines of running.
"France had a good set-piece which took us a while to sort out but the whole 22 stood up well for us and when we were under pressure there was excellent defence and team spirit."
England Students v France Universities teams
England Students: L Messer (UWIC); E Styles (Loughborough), T Mitchell (Bristol), A Cheesman (Oxford), S Miller (Bath); C Reakes (Exeter), R Weir (Loughborough); S Lockwood (Leeds Met), A Bellamy (Bristol), C Parilli-Ocampo (Loughborough), W Warden (Loughborough, captain), M Smith (UWIC), A Waddingham (Loughborough), T Sargeant (Exeter), R de Carpentier (UWIC).
Replacements: J Yeandle (UWIC) for Bellamy 50; M Mustafa (Liverpool) for Lockwood 50; R Boyle (Northumbria) for Smith 68, M Macfarlane (Loughborough) for Waddingham 61, C Grant (Reading) for Weir 79, P Roberts (Bath) for Reakes 76, F Burdon (Cambridge) for Mitchell 76.
Scorers: tries: Miller, Bellamy, De Carpentier; cons: Reakes 2; pens: Reakes 2
France Universities: M Lebouhris (BTS Poitiers); L Dupont (UJF Grenoble), G Maurino (INSA Toulouse), S Barry (Université La Rochelle), B Sicard (Université Montpellier); P Bernard (CNED Lyon), N Bezy (UPS Toulouse); Y Watremez (U. Pau-Bayonne), R Olive (Université Montpellier), K Kervarec (Université Montpellier), J Sousa (INSA Lyon), C Veyret (UPMF Grenoble), B Guyot (Université Paris, captain), A Roulin (Université Clermont-Ferrand), L Goujon (Université Clermont-Ferrand).
Replacements: V Paquet (Toulouse) for Olive 70, M Giudicelli (Université Montpellier) for Kervarec 74, G Souvent (Université La Rochelle) for Veyret 58, G Bosch (Université Perpignan) for Bernard 59, J Traini (U. Claude Bernard Lyon) for Barry 40. Unused: G Arnaudies (BTS Perpignan), S Bezy (U.Toulouse).
Scorers: tries: Debouhris 2; cons: Bernard 2; pens: Bernard 2, Bosch.
Referee: Rhys Thomas (WRU).