England began the defence of their Women’s Six Nations title with a hard-fought 19-13 victory over France in Pau.

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The visitors made a flying start with two tries inside the first 20 minutes, but France hit back to close within two points before Emily Scarratt converted her own try to give the Red Roses some vital breathing space.

In what had been widely billed as a Grand Slam decider, England took the lead after five minutes when Abby Dow was sent over in the corner and the forwards took over to extend the advantage as Vicky Fleetwood touched the ball down following a powerful driving maul.

A 24th-minute try from Laure Sansus got France back into it and Jessy Tremouliere’s penalty made it a two-point game at half-time, but England struck the decisive blow midway through the second period when Amber Reed’s offload sent Scarratt racing clear to score.

Resolute defence allowed England to weather an intense spell of pressure with the concession of a solitary Tremouliere penalty in the 75th minute and Simon Middleton’s side wound down the clock to silence the majority of the 14,000 crowd at the Stade du Hameau.

PA

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