By Issy Ronald, CNN
When England’s women first played at Twickenham in 2003, the crowd was scattered about the vast stadium, almost imperceptible in the pictures taken that day.
Twenty years later, in the latest historic occasion for women’s rugby, a world record crowd of 58,498 supporters watched England win the Women’s Six Nations by defeating France 38-33 in a thrilling finale at Twickenham, the home of English rugby union.
The previous record for a women’s game was 42,579, set at the 2022 women’s rugby World Cup final in New Zealand.
The win sealed England’s Grand Slam — a clean sweep of five victories from the tournament’s five matches — and marked an emotional farewell for head coach Simon Middleton after eight years at the helm.
“You couldn’t wish for more than this. It’s been an honor and privilege to do this job. I have been very lucky,” Middleton told the BBC.
“The girls should be massively proud of what they are doing. I am so proud. To produce a game like that on a stage like this is everything that is good about the game. It’s been incredible. It’s a great learning experience that second half and they will continue to grow.”
Despite early French pressure, England opened the scoring after 16 minutes on its first foray into the opposition 22, as Abby Dow escaped down the wing following a break from Helena Rowland.
And after that nerve-settler, England dominated for the rest of the first half, with a penalty try as well as tries from captain Marlie Packer, Alex Matthews, Zoe Aldcroft making for a 33-0 halftime lead, while France wilted in the late April sunshine, with two of its players sent to the sin bin.
But the match was not quite settled yet. France emerged with intent after halftime and scored its first points of the game early in the second half as Emilie Boulard scampered over to spark a comeback that cut England’s lead to five points by the end of the match.
Ultimately, however, it was too little too late — France’s last try arrived as the clock ticked into the red — and England clung on for victory.
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