France, and French rugby in general, is riding the crest of a wave. A record defeat of England at Twickenham on matchday four of the 2023 Six Nations only highlighted the strength and confidence of Olivier Magne’s side.
The reigning Six Nations champions enjoyed a perfect year in 2022, which began by winning all five of their Six Nations games to claim their first Grand Slam since 2010.
France’s summer and autumn campaigns also saw them win every single match they played, beating Japan three times and also toppling Australia, as well as current world champions South Africa. Their 10 wins from 10 in 2022 lifted them to first in World Rugby’s rankings, albeit they’re now second behind Six Nations rivals Ireland.
In the 2022 Six Nations, France’s form remained dominant throughout, starting the tournament just as strongly as they finished it. From an opening-day thumping of Italy, all the way up to their final match against a defiant England side, Les Bleus swept aside their opponents in five furious contests that ended with a first title in 12 years.
With the Rugby World Cup on the horizon, hosted by France themselves in the autumn of 2023, Les Bleus will be hoping to build on their fantastic last 12 months going into this edition of the Six Nations. If their performance in the 2022 championship is anything to go by, France are the team to beat this year — not only in the Six Nations, but the World Cup beyond.
France 37-10 Italy: Les Bleus make statement in opener
France opened their 2022 campaign in some style, putting on a show at the Stade de France. The Azzurri opened the scoring through a 17th-minute try for debutant winger Tommaso Menoncello, who became the youngest scorer in the competition’s 140-year history. Despite this, France soon hit back with flanker Anthony Jelonch crashing over within 10 minutes of the opening score.
FRA 37-10 ITA (R1): It was the Gabin Villière show in Paris as the diminutive-but-deadly wing scored a hat-trick in a statement opener for Fabien Galthié's side, looking to win their first title since 2010. pic.twitter.com/bZ5nXLrlPV— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 27, 2023
Electrifying winger Gabin Villiere then seized control of the game, scoring right on half-time before finishing off another flowing move within nine minutes of the restart. Damian Penaud, playing on the opposite wing to Villiere, crossed after 68 minutes to put the game beyond Italy, before Villiere scored in injury time to score his third try, France’s fifth, rounding off a statement victory and getting their tournament off to a flying start.
France 30-24 Ireland: Visitors edged in Saint-Denis classic
France and Ireland ended the year as the top two in the world respectively, and their sole meeting in 2022 certainly didn’t disappoint. A spellbinding first 10 minutes saw Antoine Dupont dart over within 90 seconds, before Ireland winger Mack Hansen plucked the restarting kick-off out of the sky to race down the left flank and score.
A series of Melvyn Jaminet penalties edged France back in front, but back came Ireland, who scored a quick-fire double straight after half-time, with Josh van der Flier and Jamison Gibson-Park scoring in the 45th and 49th minutes. France responded in tow through a close-range try for prop Cyril Baille five minutes later, and a last-minute penalty from Jaminet sealed a tight 30-24 victory at the death.
Scotland 17-36 France: Blues electric at Murrayfield
The win over Ireland was clearly too close for comfort for France and their coach Fabien Galthie, with Les Bleus producing another fast and furious start to kick off a six-try drubbing of Scotland at Murrayfield. Lock Paul Willemse and winger Yoram Moefana had both scored tries to open up a 12-3 lead inside 15 minutes, and although Rory Darge crossed for Scotland after half an hour, Gael Fickou’s try right at the end of the first half gave France a 19-10 lead at the interval.
France started the second period even more ferociously than the first, as Jonathan Danty sprinted over within two minutes of the restart. With Scotland firmly under the thumb, elegant winger Damian Penaud finished off two flowing moves in the right-hand corner to score France’s fifth and sixth tries, before Duhan van der Merwe crossed in the last minute to add some respectability to the scoreline. Regardless of what the board said, Scotland were thoroughly outplayed.
Wales 9-13 France: Les Bleus sneak to victory in Cardiff
In France’s next match against Wales, their fluid, action packed style was stifled in a far tenser affair at the Principality Stadium. The plethora of tries gave way to a game of attrition in Cardiff, which saw the whitewash breached only once. The majority of points came in the first half, with Melvyn Jaminet and Dan Biggar exchanging penalty goals inside five minutes. The sole try of the game came just moments later, when Jaminet and Anthony Jelonch combined to send the latter over and give France the lead.
🗣️ "It's very, very clever play."— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) March 11, 2022
Here's how France worked a two-on-one for Anthony Jelonch's try.
HT: Wales 9-10 France
📺 📲 Watch on @BBCiPlayer and @BBCOne - https://t.co/V2ekSY50j3 #BBCRugby #BBCSixNations #WALvFRA pic.twitter.com/Sf9Lu0kNSh
Biggar added two more penalties off the tee to narrow the half-time margin to 10-9, but another pinpoint kick by Jaminet seven minutes after the resumption proved to be the only points scored in the second half. With the physical battle between the two sides taking over, France eventually ground their way to a 13-9 victory, one that put them within touching distance of the title and set up a Grand Slam finish in ‘Le Crunch’ against England.
France 25-13 England: Grand Slam in style
The curtain came down on the 2022 Six Nations with a glorious game in Saint-Denis as France claimed their first title since 2010, sealing the Grand Slam in the process. England, who finished the tournament in third, had no chance of winning on the final day, but Eddie Jones' side were determined to spoil France’s party.
However, as they did in every single match in 2022’s tournament, France’s lightning start sent them on a path towards glory. Jaminet’s penalty was followed up by a Gael Fickou try inside 14 minutes, and although Marcus Smith closed the gap to two points with two goals off the tee, Francois Cros' try on the cusp of half-time put Les Bleus back in control.
England began the second half with renewed vigour and full-back Freddie Steward crossed in the corner with the half seven minutes old, reducing France’s lead to 18-13 and putting the visitors back within a converted try. However, France’s stoic defence and never-say-die attitude in attack meant they were far from finished, and fittingly, the man of the hour Antoine Dupont crossed on the hour mark, scoring the final try of the 2022 Six Nations to seal the title, the Grand Slam, and his own prize as player of the tournament.
FRA 25-13 ENG (R5): France claimed their first Guinness Six Nations title in 12 years after successive runners-up finishes. Scrum-half Antoine Dupont was at his mesmerising best, but he was just one incredible cog in the blue machine. Was this the beginning of a new era in rugby? pic.twitter.com/NZ83moKYO3— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 27, 2023