England and France made it four wins from four in the 2023 Six Nations Under-18s Women’s Festival to set up a mouth-watering clash on the final day.
France stormed to victories over Scotland and Wales on the second day of action at Wellington College, while England came out on top in closely fought contests against Ireland and Italy.
The Azzurre won the hearts of many, winning their first game of the Festival against Wales, while earlier in the day Ireland were deserved winners against Scotland.
Scotland 5-31 Ireland
Ireland opened the second day of the Festival with a comfortable 31-5 win against Scotland.
Larissa Muldoon’s side had the better of the early exchanges, building a solid platform off their powerful scrum before a series of carries from close range created the space for Lilly Morris to cross the whitewash.
A superb driving maul brought Ireland back almost immediately into the 22, and though Scotland were able to halt it, there was no stopping Lucia Linn when she burst through a gap in the defensive line to put her side 12-0 up.
That sprung Scotland into life, and to the delight of their boisterous support, scrum half Hannah Dunnett sniped over from within five metres to reduce the deficit to seven points.
Ireland held firm and scored from a cross-field kick shortly after, Emma Brogan the beneficiary of a stunning piece of skill from Caitriona Finn.
Hollie Howland was sent to the sin bin for Scotland with five minutes remaining, and Ireland duly capitalised with Beth Buttimer touching down from the back of a driving maul.
Lyndsay Clarke wrapped up the win in style, intercepting a loose pass before crossing underneath the posts.
Ireland 5-14 England
Ireland and England then played out one of the games of the festival, with the hosts edging an enthralling encounter 14-5.
England were a physical force from the word go, and Amelia MacDougall took advantage, bursting through a gap before sending Connie Clarke over in the corner.
Muldoon’s side responded with a sustained period of pressure in England’s 22, but heroic defence seemed to thwart them at every turn.
Beibhinn Gleeson came closest, but she was knocked into touch by the outstanding Ella Cromack after a quick-tap penalty from May Goulding.
Then, after spending almost 30 minutes on her own try line, Amelia Williams powered over from close range, and Cromack converted to give England a 14-point lead with five minutes remaining.
However, Ireland did not give up, and after launching a barrage of carries on the try line Lily Morris became the first player to score against England at the Festival.
France 44-0 Scotland
The morning session came to a close with a dominant 44-0 win for France over Scotland, as Maya Grat notched an impressive hat-trick.
Charlie Gauyat got her side off to the best possible start by stepping two defenders to score the opener, before she converted her own try to put France 7-0 ahead.
And it was 12-0 just minutes later, when Mathilde Lavergne stormed over from within five metres.
Scotland showed heart as they pushed for a try of their own, but Alice Grandhome showed class to beat two defenders, cross in the corner and put her side 17-0 ahead.
It was 22-0 shortly after when Grat sped away from her opposite number to cross in the other corner of the pitch.
Grat then wrapped up a remarkable hat-trick with scores either side of Gauyat’s second try as France pulled ahead in the closing stages.
Grandhome crossed for her second with a minute left on the clock to rubber stamp a convincing 44-0 win.
England 15-7 Italy
The afternoon session opened with Italy’s first encounter of Matchday 2, as they were narrowly defeated 15-7 by England.
England were in the ascendency from the start, turning down the opportunity to kick for the posts and instead opting to go for the corner after winning a penalty.
However, having won the ball back at the breakdown, England came alive and fed Connie Clarke, who sped over for her second score of the day.
Italy would not go down without a fight and held the hosts out for some time before a delightful grubber kick from fly half Millie Hyett sent Daisy Aspinall over.
Nonetheless, Italy fought their way back into the contest and they were rewarded when Chiara Cheli touched down under the posts with ten minutes remaining.
That was Italy’s first score of the festival, and it came against the tightest defence, but they could not push for the win, with Clarke crossing again just three minutes later to secure the victory.
Wales 0-7 France
France were the talk of the festival following their convincing display against Scotland, and they notched their second win of the day with a hard-fought 7-0 victory over Wales.
Wales started on the front foot, launching an onslaught of carries toward France’s try line but were unable to make it over the line.
Neither side could find a way through the opposition’s defence until France No.8 Mariam Niakate powered over from within five metres.
Wales deserved something from the game after matching France’s flair with incredible power, and they almost scored when Molly Wakely crossed the whitewash.
However, referee Beatriz Casares Fernandez spotted a knock-on in the build-up and Les Bleues held out for the win.
Italy 7-0 Wales
The second day of the Festival was concluded with Italy earning a tight 7-0 win against Wales.
The match started with 10 minutes of sustained pressure from the Italy attack, however on a wet pitch with an increasingly greasy ball, both sides struggled to stretch the play.
That was until Italy burst through Wales’ defence with some brave offloads before feeding Chiara Cheli for her second try of the afternoon.
Wales tried to get back on level terms, but the conditions limited both sides and the Azzurre won their first game of the Festival.