Penaud continues to excel for France on eve of World Cup

After the high of Nice came the frustration of Edinburgh for Jacques Brunel as Scotland – soundly beaten by Les Bleus a week ago – turned the tables at BT Murrayfield.

After the high of Nice came the frustration of Edinburgh for Jacques Brunel as Scotland – soundly beaten by Les Bleus a week ago – turned the tables at BT Murrayfield.

His troops dished out a 32-3 beating in front of their own fans but could not back it up in sun-kissed Scotland, going down 17-14 despite a promising start.

But if Brunel can rest assured with one thing, it’s that he boasts one of the game’s most in-form wingers in Damian Penaud.

A converted centre with pace, power and a knack for the unpredictable, Penaud has gradually made a name for himself in the last six months.

He started all five of France’s Guinness Six Nations matches earlier this year before enjoying a blistering end to the Top 14 season, which resulted in winning the Challenge Cup with Clermont.

And here he underlined his vast potential with two tries in the 17-14 defeat, suggesting he is ready to take world by storm in Japan in just a handful of weeks.

Early signs of promise

Penaud’s first five Test appearances came at centre but he broke through at the worst possible time.

He made his bow against South Africa in June 2017 alongside Gael Fickou in the middle, but Les Bleus went down 37-15 in Durban.

Four more appearances – twice against South Africa and one each against New Zealand and Japan – swiftly followed that year but an out-of-sorts France failed to win a single one.

Unsurprisingly, Penaud was taken out of the firing line as France removed Guy Noves and installed Brunel as head coach shortly after,

He had to wait 12 months for another crack, this time as a winger.

Again, his first chance there came against the Springboks and again it ended in defeat.

Guinness Six Nations emergence

But Brunel stuck with him as the 2019 Guinness Six Nations arrived and he showed flashes of promise. He scored a try at Twickenham in the chastening defeat, while he also scorched Italy for 98 metres, four clean breaks and a try in Round Four.

Defensively, there was clearly work to do. England, in particular, found joy down his flank in that convincing Round Two victory.

But in the closing months at Clermont he kicked on both offensively and defensively.

Dangerous Damian

Penaud finished the domestic campaign like a man possessed, with a sensational try in Clermont’s Top 14 semi-final win against Lyon typical of his pace and power.

He also scored a telling try in the Challenge Cup final, picking the ball up 15 metres out before accelerating to the right and dotting down in style in the 36-16 win against La Rochelle.

That increase in confidence has clearly made a difference. Against Scotland last weekend, he ran riot, gaining 113 metres with ball in hand – the next highest was Antoine Dupont with 74 – while also making three clean breaks and beating five defenders.

However, he failed to cross for a try and was therefore slightly overshadowed by the likes of Maxime Medard and Dupont – who he helped set up in the second half.

But in Edinburgh, he was the main man. Scotland have an increasingly worrying habit of conceding tries in the first two minutes of Test matches and this was their third in a row, with Peter Horne’s mis-placed pass punished by Penaud as he disappeared under the posts.

Minutes later and Scotland were again the architects of their own downfall again when a spilled ball fell into the arms of Sofiane Guitoune and he opened up space for the lightning Penaud to burst into and score.

From there, Scotland grew into the contest and walked away with a narrow win, with Sean Maitland and Chris Harris crossing for tries.

The result and patchy performance has no doubt left Brunel irritated at his side’s lack of consistency.

But in Penaud, he has no concerns.