England women edge out France at start of Six Nations defence

England centre Emily Scaratt celebrates after scoring in her side's victory over France in Paris in the Women's Six Nations. GAIZKA IROZ/AFP via Getty Images

Defending champions England held their nerve to secure a 19-13 victory over France in their opening match of the women's Six Nations championship in Pau on Sunday.

Abby Dow and Vicky Fleetwood scored tries as England raced to an early 12-0 lead, but Laure Sansus crossed to drag the hosts back into the contest.

France were in complete control of the scrums, but England held on and against the run of play scored their third try with a brilliant solo effort from World Rugby women's player of the year Emily Scarratt.

Jessy Tremouliere's penalty reduced the gap for France but they failed to convert large periods of dominance into more points.

"The defence of the Grand Slam is back on," Scarratt said. "It's a tough way to do it this year with three away game, it's definitely the start we wanted."

England swept last year's tournament after the Rugby Football Union awarded 28 players full-time contracts.

The clash against France, whose players are on part-time contracts, had been billed as an early title decider and victory was England's first in France in the Six Nations since 2012.

"We relish come down and playing in front of a partisan crowd. You can barely hear each other, let alone think," England captain Sarah Hunter said.

"Fair play to France, they kept coming and coming. It took us a long time to get a win in France."

Elsewhere, Italy held off a late charge from Wales to claim a 19-15 victory and Ireland edged out Scotland 18-14.