The wait is over, France sit atop the Guinness Six Nations for the first time in more than a decade following a sensational Grand Slam.
Les Bleus ensured it was third time lucky after back-to-back runners-up finishes as they left nothing to chance on their way to a first title since 2010.
Under Fabien Galthié, France have become a powerhouse and they proved it in 2022, trailing for just 13 minutes in the entire campaign, in the first half of their opening game against Italy.
Tale of the Championship
France opened their campaign on a Sunday at the Stade de France against Italy, and after a tight first half, Gabin Villière’s try just before the break set them on their way to a 37-10 victory.
The former Sevens star ended up scoring a hat-trick as France ran in five tries in all to take their place at the top of the table, a spot they never relinquished.
The following week it was Ireland who came to Paris, the two teams who had beaten the All Blacks in the Autumn Nations Series in one of the most anticipated games in the Championship.
Antoine Dupont put France in front after barely a minute and they led 19-7 after a dominant first half.
Ireland got back to within a point, but Cyril Baille’s try gave Les Bleus some breathing room and they eventually ran out 30-24 winners.
Next up was a first away trip, against a Scotland team who had won the last two Championship meetings. France had two tries in the first quarter of an hour, Paul Willemse finishing off a stunning Dupont counter-attack and Yoram Moefana then grabbing his first Test try.
After a Scottish comeback, Gaël Fickou’s try right before half-time proved a turning point, with Jonathan Danty wrapping up the bonus point straight after the break. Damian Penaud added a late double as France pulled away for a 36-17 win.
The closest encounter came at Principality Stadium where Anthony Jelonch’s early try put France in front, but Wales then enjoyed the better of the territory and possession battle.
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They could not break down Shaun Edwards’ defence though, with France running out 13-9 winners.
That left a home clash with England to complete the Slam, and France did it in style, winning 25-13.
Fickou got the ball rolling with the opening try, with François Cros adding another right before half-time for an 18-6 lead.
Despite Freddie Steward cutting the deficit, Dupont popped up for the try that sealed it on the hour mark as Paris celebrated a magical Super Saturday.
So many contenders with Grégory Alldritt, Paul Willemse, François Cros, Cyril Baille and Julien Marchand all playing key roles in the pack, while Damian Penaud and Gaël Fickou were outstanding in the backline. In the end though, the Guinness Six Nations Player of the Championship was Antoine Dupont and it is hard to argue. The world’s best player took on the French captaincy and did not miss a beat. His kicking, defence and leadership stood out, in addition to the usual support lines and exquisite playmaking.
It is probably one of two options. Dupont’s try against England saw the Stade de France erupt, 80,000 people who had been tensely waiting to celebrate given the signal that the Grand Slam was really happening. But the peak of what this French team can do came in the first half against Ireland and the opening try.
A quick lineout from Dupont in the first minute saw France go left then back right, attacking with purpose in every phase before Romain Ntamack’s blind offload inside where he knew Dupont would be on hand to race over. It was sign of what was to come.
Depending on your definition of breakthrough player, there are a few players who could fall under this bracket. Jonathan Danty made his debut six years ago, but this Championship was the one where he cemented his status as not only first choice, but one of the best in the world in his role. Gabin Villière and Melvyn Jaminet both established themselves in 2021 but in their first full campaigns, stepped up when required.
But for pure breakthrough, Yoram Moefana went from fringe squad member to playing in the first four matches before injury kept him out of the Grand Slam game. Capable of playing in the centres and on either wing, his versatility was remarkable and at just 21, his potential is sky-high.
France will head to Japan for a pair of Tests this summer with Fabien Galthié set to be without the Top 14 finalists and likely to rest some senior players. That will help build even greater depth, while Charles Ollivon should come back into the fold having recently returned from a serious knee injury.
It could also be an opportunity for a player like Jordan Joseph, the former World Under-20s Player of the Year, to get his debut. In the Autumn Nations Series, there will be another game against Japan, sandwiched between clashes with Australia and South Africa, the meeting of the current top two in the world rankings.
That is a mouth-watering prospect before France try to defend their Championship crown in 2023 ahead of a home World Cup.