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No fairytale finish for Linda Itunu

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Campbell Burnes     18 Nov 2018     Getty Images

The result sees the series drawn 1-1, meaning veteran loose forward Linda Itunu does not get the farewell from international rugby that she desired. But Itunu, who was brought into the starting line-up at No 8 after Les Elder was a late scratching, played her heart out for 75 minutes before limping off. 

She made several charging runs and her trademark bruising defence was also to the fore. Itunu was one of the best Black Ferns on a day when they had to concede that France was superior in most areas, especially the scrums, again, and also with their execution and committed defence. Two yellow cards – to wing Ayesha Leti-I’iga and midfielder Ruahei Demant – did not help matters.

QUICK TAP: GET TO KNOW FIAO'O FAAMAUSILI AND LINDA ITUNU

France was fiercely committed from 1-15, its forward pack outstanding and with fullback Caroline Boujard full of ambition. In scoring four tries to three, the home side, before one of the largest standalone women’s Test match rugby crowds, at Stade des Alpes, showed it deserved this stunning upset.

The Black Ferns were never able to get their flow on, nor did they ever hit the lead, as France hit them hard from the kickoff. Tighthead prop Julie Duval opened the scoring off a well-controlled lineout drive.

Centre Stacey Waaka struck back for the Black Ferns, running a good angle off Krysten Cottrell to level the scores. Kendra Cocksedge, who had a 100 percent record off the tee, actually kept the visitors in the game through her accuracy.

A superb solo try by France centre Maelle Filopon came at a cost, the No 13 stretchered off. But barely two minutes later, No 8 Romane Menager, whose battle with Linda Itunu was a real highlight, stormed 60m for a solo try, swatting off Black Ferns defenders as if they were pesky flies.

Black Ferns skipper Fiao’o Faamausili scored a critical try, her 17th at this level, from the tried and trusted lineout maul. They trailed 19-14 at the break.

But any thoughts of wresting the initiative early in the second stanza were dashed when French No 10 Caroline Drouin finished a sweet move which saw a skilful offload by impressive lock Lenaig Corson.

Not to be ground down, Selica Winiata, who has had limited chances in the last two Test matches, finished a good try to pull the margin back to two.



Both kickers then traded penalties, but while the tries dried up, the action, and the hits, were still coming in compelling fashion. The Black Ferns had one last chance to go 80 metres to force what would have been an astonishing win, but France, determined to the last, was not to be denied.

France 30 (Julie Duval, Maelle Filopon, Romane Menager, Caroline Drouin tries; Drouin 2 con, 2 pen) Black Ferns 27 (Stacey Waaka, Fiao’o Faamausili, Selica Winiata tries; Kendra Cocksedge 3 con, 2 pen) HT: 19-14 France