In France’s record-breaking 53-10 humbling of England at Twickenham on Saturday there were plenty of special moments, but none more so than their seventh try.
Already leading 48-10 and with their record win over England in the bag, they sensed an opportunity to launch a training ground move from their lineout just outside England’s 22.
Replacement hooker Peato Mauvaka, returning to the squad from injury, found Thibaud Flament at the lineout, who in turn rolled out and handed the ball to Gregory Alldritt, with England’s forwards fooled into thinking France’s plan was a driving maul.
A driving maul was not part of France and Laurent Labit’s planned move though, not on this occasion at least, and Alldritt passed it to Maxime Lucu, another returning from injury.
Lucu passed it straight to another replacement Yoram Moefana, who took the ball right to the line before passing out the back to Thomas Ramos.
The move had already fooled England, whose defensive shape was all over the place, and Gaël Fickou’s hard line outside Ramos confused matters further for Steve Borthwick’s men.
The full-back passed behind the centre to find Ethan Dumortier and by now alarm bells were really ringing in the England defensive line, but even more so when Dumortier managed to release his pass in time to another replacement in Melvyn Jaminet, leaving Anthony Watson stranded in no man’s land.
Suddenly, France had a two on one, and Jaminet released Damian Penaud early allowing the prolific winger to ease through to score his 24th international try in just his 41st cap – but importantly his 12th Guinness Six Nations try, overtaking the the great Vincent Clerc as France’s top try-scorer in the Championship.
It was a try that had been long in the making and blew the 81,000 strong crowd at Twickenham away, but incredibly it almost did not happen.
Les Bleus’ full-back Ramos, who scored France’s first try earlier in the game, revealed that they had been working on this move for some time and came close to holding on once more, but decided the time was right, with England depleted in the backline after Ollie Lawrence’s hamstring injury, leaving them with forwards covering the midfield defence.
He said: “We were not going to use this move for this game, then yesterday, talking to the coaches before we left, we thought why not give it a go?”
“This is a move that we have mastered and in the end we said, why not use it since we have them where we want them, we haven’t done it yet in the game and we can surprise them with it.
“I think it is more effective if you’ve got the two centres out of the line, and they found themselves with a forward in the backs, so defensively for them it was not ideal.
“I think we knew how to exploit these weaknesses on their side, but to score it was great – it is always really nice to score off first phase ball.”
It was a try reminiscent of Penaud’s score at Twickenham in the same corner two years ago, when France unleashed an equally effective backs move to see Penaud walk in untouched.
That ended up masked by a 23-20 defeat, their sole defeat of the campaign, but the fact they were able to create a similar score so effectively suggests that perhaps they are even holding more back six months from the World Cup.
And despite the similarities between the two tries, Ramos insists the two are quite different, confirming how much they have worked on it in training.
“I think this try was different from the one in 2021,” added Ramos, who scored 23 points in the game.
“The ball went from one touchline to Damian’s wing and almost all the backs touched the ball.
“It is always something we are trying to work on, so we wanted to use it this weekend and it is so pleasing that it paid off and we scored from it.”