England coach Gary Street is relishing the prospect of facing world champions New Zealand in a three-Test series later this month after seeing his players battle past France 23-13 on Saturday.
Tries from Ruth Laybourn, debutant Joanne Watmore and Fiona Davidson helped England to the win while Amber Reed, also making her first appearance, kept the scoreboard ticking over with two penalties and a conversion at Esher RFC.
“It’s going to be tough,” said Street. “Playing New Zealand in a three-match series at home is a great challenge and we really can’t wait for it.
“We are pleased to get that result against the French. They are a big, physical side and they came at us. We only had a couple of days together before the game so there were undoubtedly too many errors but there are a lot of positives from the weekend.”
France, who will also face USA this month, had opened the scoring in the second minute with a well-taken penalty by Jessy Trémouliere, but England hit back almost immediately with a penalty of their own from Reed.
Trémoulière regained the lead for France in the seventh minute when the full back went over in the corner and fly half Aurélie Bailon added the conversion to make it 10-3. Reed again cut the deficit but it was not until just past the half hour mark that England hit the front for the first time.
With a player advantage with Julie Billes in the sin-bin, Laybourn showed an explosive turn of pace to race past the French defence after excellent work by Danielle Waterman in the build-up to make the score 11-10.
England extended their lead early in the second half when Watmore, who has been making a name for herself on the Sevens circuit, showed strength and pace to beat the French backline as the hosts opened up an eight-point lead.
France started to apply pressure and when England flanker Helen Fisher was sin-binned at the hour mark, the visitors began to enjoy more possession and were rewarded with another penalty by Bailon to cut the deficit to 18-13.
That, though, was as close as France got as when Fisher returned to the field, England added a third try through replacement scrum half Davidson, who picked up a loose ball and raced through unopposed to make the score 23-18 and seal the win.
England’s focus now moves onto the three-Test series with New Zealand, which kicks off at Esher on 23 November and ends at Twickenham on 1 December. England won the series 2-0 last year, so know the Black Ferns will be eager for revenge in 2012.