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Gabrielle Vernier: 'We're not far off an achievement' against England

PARIS, FRANCE - APRIL 14 Gabrielle Vernier of France in action during the Guinness Women's Six Nations 2024 match between France and Italy at Stade Jean Bouin on April 14, 2024 in Paris, France.(Photo by Christian Liewig - Corbis/Getty Images)

The centre of the French women’s team is taking a clear-headed approach to the final crunch match of the 2024 Guinness Women’s Six Nations.

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Gabrielle Vernier (26, 44 caps) has faced England nine times in her career. And never, never has the French women’s centre beaten the Red Roses.  Twice the margin has been just two points: 17-15 at Exeter on 16 November 2019 and by the exact same score at Villeneuve-d’Ascq on 30 April 2021.

As she prepares to take on England in the final match of the 2024 Guinness Women’s Six Nations in Bordeaux, the Blagnac player is under no illusions. “England will be favourites and we’ll be looking for a feat,” she told L’Equipe’s aptly-named Crunch podcast.

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“It’s a feat we have to achieve. We know England are on a great run in the Six Nations. We have the weapons to try and compete with them and we can’t wait to show what we can do and seize the opportunity to complete a Grand Slam.”

The player who is one of the leaders of this year’s squad was reluctant to talk about the clash with England at the start of the tournament. Experience, no doubt. Wisdom. “We know we’re capable of making mistakes, of having bad games. It wouldn’t have helped us to think about England at the start of the tournament,” she says.

“We’ve learnt to take it one game at a time, put in good performances to grow throughout this Six Nations and I think we’ve done that. We’ve built ourselves up, we’ve played games with varying degrees of success. But it’s all about learning and we’ve improved in terms of level and skill, so we’ve got all the ingredients this weekend.”

The ingredients needed

The ingredients include a free-flowing game that is as pleasing to play as it is to watch, instilled by the coaching duo of Gaëlle Mignot and David Ortiz. It was also the scrum that saved France against Wales, when the lineouts were in a sorry state with six loose balls.

“It’s really important to get a clean sheet in the big games. Wales read us really well and counter-attacked really well in this game. It’s up to us to work hard to come up with something different against England. Luckily, we have a very solid scrum,” the engineer smiled.

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The other ingredient is discipline, which has not been lacking so far: 33 penalties whistled in four games, the second most disciplined team in the tournament behind Ireland with 32. Everything was fine until three cards against Wales on matchday four.

“It’s a bit of a lack of control on our part. It happens. It’s true that three cards in the course of a game is a bit much,” she said, trying to put things into perspective.

If Les Bleues have such a good record, it’s undoubtedly thanks to the recurring presence of Aurélie Groizeleau, the international referee who comes to Marcoussis from time to time to oversee training sessions.

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“She gives us feedback on the games we play and explains the mistakes we make. She takes part in our matches and gives us live feedback on the mistakes we might be making. It pays off,” says Vernier.

So close

Like the coaches, the centre believes the team is ready to “cause an upset” against John Mitchell’s team, especially as the win will come with a first Grand Slam since 2018. It was her first, her only to date. And nothing since.

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“We’re a generation that’s worked for years and years and haven’t had a title to show for it. It’s frustrating for all the hard work we put in every day to win titles. But we don’t come here thinking we’re not going to win anything. On the contrary, we tell ourselves that we’re not the favourites, but we also know that we’re not far away from doing something. It would be the best reward for all the hard work we’ve put in over the years,” she says.

If the French are aware that they’re “not far from an achievement”, it’s because they’re still thinking about the last time these two teams met, in front of 58,498 at Twickenham in 2023. England won the Grand Slam 38-33 in a match marked by two very different halves.

“We had a total blank for 20-25 minutes where we scored 30 points in 20 minutes,” recalls the 2023 Player of the Tournament. “We were in their half for the first 20 minutes, and we didn’t score. That’s what put us in this situation. If we’d scored in the opening minutes of last year’s game, I think it would have been a different story.”

Trailing 33-0 at the break and in trouble after two yellow cards (Jessy Trémoulière and Rose Bernadou), Les Bleues fought back in the second half with a first try from Emilie Boulard (48th), a second from Gabrielle Vernier (55th), a third from Charlotte Escudero (65th), a fourth from Emeline Gros (76th) and a last one from Cyrielle Banet (79th).

Meanwhile, the Red Roses could only manage one try. But the damage had already been done.

“In previous meetings, we have missed the first half,” admits Gaby. “It’s a fresh memory. We talk about it amongst ourselves. This second half shows that we’re capable of anything if we play with freedom, if we play good rugby and have fun.

“We managed to take them completely off their game in the second half. Last year’s game showed us what we’re capable of when all the ingredients come together. It gives us even more motivation for this year because we know we’re capable of doing great things against them.”

The French know what it takes to succeed and have been working towards that goal all week. A record crowd at the Stade Chaban-Delmas in Bordeaux – “I’m hoping for 30,000!” – could be the extra edge France need for victory.

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Abe 2 hours ago
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Turlough 6 hours ago
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