France put Wales firmly in their place as they dominated their first match of the 2021 Six Nations. Warren Abrahams now knows the size of the task he has shouldered.
The hosts held all the trumps in Brittany; history revealed an average points margin of 25 in their favour, Wales winning just two of their previous encounters. The French team were determined to rise to the standard they showed in the thriller at Twickenham, putting their sub-par performance against Scotland firmly behind them.
The opening phases could hardly have gone better for them: well inside 15 minutes Caroline Boujard had motored over for a hat-trick of tries. In the stand Cyrielle Banet could only look on.
The pattern was set inside two minutes. As Nikki O’Donnell offered two advantages, Boujard spotted an unguarded ruck and was through. All too soon, Wales ran the ball down their line, lost possession and there was no-one at home to stop the French winger.
Her third came on the end of another silky passage of French handling, Gabrielle Vernier offering her wing another opening.
The only chance for Wales to smile till then had been when hair got caught in an opponent’s scrum-cap. All was sweetness and light as that tangle was sorted.
Pauline Bourdon, who had converted the tries, now had a simple penalty in front of the sticks. (24-0) She was back to her very best, forcing the management to delay Laure Sansus’ entry till the 69th minute.
Marine Ménager had the misfortune to turn an ankle, but Wales’ fortunes were not to be helped by an early appearance for the Player of the Decade, Jessy Trémoulière.
Agathe Sochat finished off the first-half scoring on the end of yet another successful catch-and-drive.
Wales’ error-count continued as Eleanor Snowsill twice failed to find touch from penalties. A dominant scrum allowed Emeline Gros to pick up at No 8 and run clean over the line. After Safi N’Diaye, a bencher today, couldn’t quite get downward pressure for another try, Gros repeated her medicine as the reshaped French pack really began to enjoy themselves.
More outstanding handling and support work helped Emilie Boulard score a wonderful try on debut. And there was no let-up; in a foreshortened competition every point counts. In the 82nd minute Georgia Evans saw yellow as her side underwent massive pressure on their line. And there was still time for Laure Touyé, the replacement hooker, to post the last score from another catch-and-drive to match England’s eight tries.
Result: France 53 Wales 0
Player of the Match: Gabrielle Vernier
France: Boulard, Boujard, Filopon, Vernier, M. Ménager, Peyronnet, Bourdon, Deshayes, Sochat, Joyeux, Diallo, Fall, Ferer, Hermet (captain), Gros
Bench: Touyé, Aït Lhabib, Traoré, N’Diaye, Mayans, Sansus, Imart, Trémoulière
Wales: Wilkins, Neumann, H. Jones, Lake, Joyce, Snowsill, Roberts, Thomas, K. Jones, Rose, Davies, Crabb, Johnes, Evans, Lillicrap (captain)
Bench: Lock, Hope, Hale, Dainton, John, Davies, Rowland, Keight
It is thirteen months since Wales last tasted test rugby. That is no sort of preparation for facing one of the world’s brightest outfits. They have just a week before welcoming Ireland to the Arms Park. They suffered the same problems as the Scots earlier: once the ball reached the backs, the defensive line was all-smothering. The centres hardly ever managed to make ground for the back-row to exploit. Despite this, Hannah Jones put in a superhuman performance, especially in defence. All through, basic errors in ball-management kept Wales from developing promising moves.
France’s one new cap, the full-back Emilie Boulard, looked highly promising. She is tall and rangy, aggressive in attack and blessed with the handling skills evident right across the squad in Vannes.
There are clear warnings for England, should they meet Les Bleues in Round 4. While they were busy giving away penalties in Doncaster, France kept their discipline to avoid the dreaded yellow card.
Their combined play could rise to great heights, off-loads completed under pressure, passes of every shape and size finding the target; and they kept a clean sheet, a target England failed to achieve.
Referee: Nikki O’Donnell (RFU)
Assistant referee 1: Hollie Davidson (SRU)
Assistant referee 2: Katherine Ritchie (RFU)
TMO: Stefano Penne (FIR)
It was good to see women covering all the on-field positions this weekend, and representing five different nations.