Neither France nor the Cook Islands could qualify for the semi-finals of the Women´s World Cup as they met in the opening fixture of a double header at the LNER Stadium in York, but there was still plenty to play for as both sides looked to end their campaign with a victory and two points.
France haven´t managed a single point so far in this year’s competition while the Cook Islands have just a single try to their name in their two games. France have conceded more against Australia and New Zealand totalling 138 while The Moana have leaked 104.
The Cook Islands were the favourites with the bookies, France being given a sixteen point start on the coupon, but with France hosting the next competition in three years’ time they were looking for a big confidence boost.
It was a rough and tough game for the opening eighteen minutes until the Cook Islands opened the scoring through April Ngatupuna who crashed through the French defence to ground. Kere Matua added the conversion for a 6-0 lead.
France struck back on twenty-six their first points of the tournament, with a dummy and long ball from Alice Varela finding Melanie Bianchini to go over on the overlap. The kick from Ciria fell short of the crossbar, France still trailing.
Returning the ball, the Cook Islands quickly doubled their score with Terehia Matua crashing over the line with a barnstorming run from ten metres out. Her sister added the conversion for a 12-4 lead.
The Cook Islands were 16-4 ahead on forty-two Mackenzie Wiki on the overlap right this time to take a pass after a nice move down the line. Matua was unable to convert from the touchline, but The Moana were two converted tries ahead.
France grabbed a lifeline with a breakaway try on forty-seven driving down the middle and supporting well with Mailys Borak proving the pass to Elisa Ciria to score. Ciria was on target herself this time with the conversion, the lead down to just six points.
After a ball steal for stripping deep inside the French twenty the Cook Islands opted to run the ball and after the French conceded a second penalty it looked inevitable that they would score but some great defence forced the ball carrier into touch.
Cook Islands kept the ball alive on the hour mark with a couple of great drive before an offload to Alekermay Tuaana who brushed off the final tackler to go in from five metres. Matua added the goal for 22-10.
On sixty-three, France again narrowed the margin when Christina Song Puche took an offload to stretch for the line with a tackler attached. Ciria´s conversion attempt dropped under the crossbar, France now trailing by eight.
A dive from acting half back from Erikana Dean, going under the French tacklers, finally put the result beyond doubt. Matua couldn´t add the conversion but at 26-14 with just over five minutes remaining it was game over.
Ciria got her second of the game on seventy-six to again reduce the lead as she picked up a loose pass which had gone to ground and stepped past the defenders to sprint in. She was unable to add the extras, France losing the game by 18-26, after drawing the second half 14-14.
It is the Cook Islands who finished their tournament with a win and France who were winless after their three games. This was a competitive game with France controlling long periods of play but unable to convert possession into points and when the Cook Islands got on a charge, they were unstoppable, especially their enormous forwards who France struggled to bring to ground. Both sides scored points to sweeten their night and tournament and take something back with them to their respective countries.
France: Guillerot, Song Puche (T), Bianchini (T), Biville, Meunier, Ciria (2T, G), Varela, Alvernhe, Ramos, Mansard, Akpa, Monsarrat, Samarra D. Subs: Bernard, Borak, Pastre-Courtine, Samarra M.
Cook Islands: Tuaana (T), Wiki (T), Tupou-Witchman, Tamu-Makara, Rongokea, Matua K (3G), Stephens, Tanevesi, Dean, Ngatupuna (T), Kitai, Mo´ale, Walton. Subs: Harrison-Vahua, Dean M, Dean E (T), Matua T (T).
Score Progression: 0-4, 0-6, 4-6, 4-10, 4-12 : HT : 4-16, 8-16, 10-16, 10-20, 10-22, 14-22, 14-26, 18-26 : FT .
Lead Exchanges: Cook Islands.
Referee: Ben Thaler.
Attendance: ? at the LNER Community Stadium, York. (Double Header)