The mastermind of France’s majestic first-phase try breaks it down

Say the word Toulouse in rugby circles and most people will think of red and black and the most successful club team in France.

Say the word Toulouse in rugby circles and most people will think of red and black and the most successful club team in France.

This weekend at Twickenham though, ‘Toulouse’ had a very different meaning. It was the name of the set-play called by Les Bleus that ended with Damian Penaud crossing almost unopposed.

The play was the brainchild of attack coach Laurent Labit, the former Castres and Racing 92 coach who was born 50km outside Toulouse.

He is not the most high-profile member of the French coaching staff but the former full-back won the French title both as a player, with Castres, and twice as a coach, with Castres and Racing 92.

And after masterminding a rare try from first phase, the holy grail against modern defences, he explained in the Midi Olympique exactly how he had come up with the move. First, let’s remind ourselves of the situation. With half an hour gone, France trailed 13-10 and had a lineout just outside the England 22. This was where the call ‘Toulouse’ came.

Labit explains why: “We had noticed that at lineouts, an English forward dropped back ten metres to protect George Ford, which was a sensitive area in England’s defensive set-up. At that point, the receiver (Tom Curry), rather than locking up the end of the lineout, stood in the centre or at the front. With a laser throw, as Julien Marchand did, we knew that we would be able to get to the ball first.”

As you can see in this first image, Luke Cowan-Dickie has dropped back level with George Ford, while Tom Curry is in the middle of the lineout in case France go for the drive.

Knowing that they will get to the long ball first, Marchand throws over the lineout where Gaël Fickou (who is already itching to go) sprints up to collect the ball.

From here, Fickou has plenty of options. Teddy Thomas is on his inside shoulder, and holds the attention of Cowan-Dickie and Curry, while Fickou could also just carry himself. Instead he goes out the back to Antoine Dupont who is drifting across following the lineout.

That opens up the right side of the pitch for France, and they get even more space thanks to Virimi Vakatawa’s dummy run – another aspect of the move that comes from studying England’s defensive line.

Labit added: “The open space was therefore on the outside, because everything had been done to protect George Ford in the middle of the park, with a forward on one side and Owen Farrell on the other. We’d also noticed that Henry Slade, tended to turn his shoulders towards the inside, which allowed Virimi Vakatawa and Matthieu Jalibert, to create an overlap on the outside. And that allowed Damian Penaud to score.”

Slade does just that, turning in to ensure he is in position to slow the powerful Vakatawa down if Dupont feeds him the ball.

Instead, Dupont passes to Jalibert, who carries the ball in two hands as every player should. When he gets the ball, it’s a three-on-three, but with Owen Farrell struggling to get across.

Jalibert’s pace, and decision to hold onto the ball, forces Jonny May to make a decision. As soon as the winger feels he can wait no longer and steps in, Jalibert pounces, floating the ball over to Penaud for the simple run-in.

So there you have it, the perfect set-play, designed by Labit, and executed to perfection by not just the five players who touched the ball, but also Thomas and Vakatawa on their dummy runs.