France fell at the last hurdle in the TikTok Women’s Six Nations but were faultless until the decisive 24-12 loss to champions England.
Les Bleues started the campaign with four bonus-point wins before falling just short in their bid for a first Championship title in four years.
However, four bonus point wins will give the French confidence going forward as they look to overturn England and wrestle the crown back next season.
Tale of the Championship
Round 1 saw France overcome some early wobbles to run out 39-6 winners over Italy in Grenoble.
But even some sloppy loose passes in the first half didn’t prevent the hosts from leading 17-6 at the break after tries from player of the match Madoussou Fall and Émeline Gros.
They stepped up their game late on with the introduction of scrum-half Laure Sansus and a cracking solo try from Emilie Boulard secured the bonus point with five minutes remaining.
It was a different story in Toulouse against Ireland a week later, with the bonus point already in the bag by the 37th minute.
Les Bleues dominated from the off and cruised to a six-try 40-5 win, even with seven changes to their line-up from the Italy game.
Player of the match Sansus crossed twice and would do so again in the following round against Scotland.
Her first in Glasgow opened the scoring in style, chipping the ball over the Scottish defence and calmly collecting to run clear.
Once more, Les Bleues had wrapped up the bonus point before the break, but a series of changes allowed the Scots to score a consolation and cap France’s points at 28.
But with England keeping pace, it was vital no mistakes were made away to Wales in Round 4.
And France did not disappoint, racking up four tries before half-time for the third match running.
Three of them came from star half-backs Jessy Tremouliere and Sansus, and the latter picked up her second player of the match award of the Championship.
A final minute try from Sioned Harries left the 33-5 scoreline with a slight blemish, though it was only France’s third concession in four rounds.
This tally was doubled in the Round 5 decider, when Les Bleues struggled to deal with rolling mauls which produced all three of England’s early scores.
No.8 Romane Ménager struck first to whip up the sell-out French crowd into a frenzy but England, who had not yet been behind in the tournament, hit back quickly.
A try from Annaelle Deshayes in the 66th minute elevated hopes of an unlikely comeback, but it proved too little, too late as the Red Roses won their fourth consecutive Championship.
With Pauline Bourdon injured, there were questions over whether scrum-half Laure Sansus could step up to the requisite level.
But she answered all of them emphatically.
The diminutive 27-year-old was the tournament’s top try-scorer (6) and assist-maker (6), offering attacking threat throughout alongside some superb kicking.
France’s third try in Cardiff was Les Bleues at their ruthless best.
Full-back Chloe Jacquet collected a kick just inside her own half and immediately set off, offloading to Sansus who swiftly returned the favour.
Jacquet still had a lot to do, but an expertly timed jink set her away to extend her side’s lead in a dominant first-half display.
20-year-old Chloé Jacquet won a silver medal at the Olympics in Beijing with the French 7s team, and she has continued to impress on the international stage.
The full-back started four of France’s five matches, scoring two tries, including the aforementioned try against Wales.
Her speed, passion and devastating kicks have proved real assets for an already quality-filled squad.
Head coach Annick Hayraud admitted her side need to figure out a way of defending against England’s not-so-secret weapon come the World Cup in the autumn.
She said: “On the mauls, the girls had heart and courage to defend, but the English score three tries from this kind of action.
“This shows that we do not have the solutions and we will have to find them.
“We will have to adapt to our attack, lose fewer balls. Against this type of nation, you can’t afford it.
“It is up to us to grow in this area.”
If they can manage that, they will surely prove a formidable team for years to come.