The biggest debate around French women’s rugby in recent seasons has been over who should start at scrum-half between Laure Sansus and Pauline Bourdon.
So when the latter was ruled out of the TikTok Women’s Six Nations through injury, it created an opportunity for Sansus, while also putting a lot of responsibility on her shoulders.
She lived up to the challenge and more, finishing the competition as the top try-scorer, with six, while adding as many try assists, also the most of any player.
Not only that, Sansus became the focal point around which the French game plan revolved. Her kicking game allowed them to play a territorial style, while the threat she posed around the breakdown opened up space for others.
It is not a stretch to say that no player had a greater influence on her team’s results than Sansus and she was a fitting winner of the TikTok Player of the Championship award.
While Sansus was on the pitch, France’s points difference was +91 in 258 minutes. Their points difference was just +13 in the remaining 142 minutes. While on/off numbers are not a common metric in rugby, they give an idea of Sansus’ influence.
Inevitably, in a side where the team takes priority over any individual, Sansus was typically quick to point out the help she received from her colleagues while also hoping that this prize can inspire more diminutive players to take up the sport.
She said: “It’s a real pleasure. I think it is a reward for all the effort we put in individually and collectively, so I’m really happy.
“It shows that people watched our games and enjoyed our performances so thank you for voting.
“I think it’s a good lesson for everyone, rugby is for everyone, big and small, so I’d invite everyone to play.”
The disappointment for Sansus is that this trophy will not join a winner’s medal, with France beaten in the Grand Slam decider by England, 24-12 in Bayonne.
That defeat came with some initial regrets, particularly because of a long spell in the England 22 shortly before half-time during which France were unable to score and get back into the game.
With some time to reflect on the game however, Sansus is more philosophical.
She explained: “There’s disappointment, of course. It was a final but when you take a step back and look at the game, you realise that at the moment they are a level above us. So it takes away some of the frustration, we have to admit that at the moment they are better than us so there are fewer regrets.
“What they have that we don’t is that they score with every opportunity they get. They are able to hit you where it hurts, we are a bit softer and can’t always take our chances. We talk a lot about English pragmatism, there we saw it up close. It’s an area that we need to work on to improve.
“We have to improve in terms of discipline and to take inspiration from them and how they play. As soon as they get into the 22, they score. We were able to put them under pressure but were not always able to score, that’s the difference at the moment.”
France had made a dream start in Bayonne, Sansus using the fact that England were marking her closely to put Romane Ménager in for the opening try with a beautiful, delayed pass after three minutes.
From there though, England were able to use their rolling maul to great effect, with Sarah Bern scoring two of their three tries as they opened up a lead they never looked like relinquishing.
That made it ten wins in a row against Les Bleues and where France had come close against England a year ago, this felt like a more convincing defeat.
Sansus admitted that the team had not quite hit their straps in 2022 so far, something she is determined to put right ahead of the World Cup in New Zealand later this year.
She added: “In terms of the Six Nations overall, from a results perspective, we did the job. We got the wins and the bonus points, both at home and on the road. But we were not as comfortable as last year, we were not able to set up as we would like.
“We won every game thanks to our kicking game and our defence but it’s true that we were missing something compared to last year. We have got to find that structure before the World Cup.
“The World Cup is a new challenge. It would be my first. We are fortunate to have England in our group, and we might meet them again in the knockout stages. But it would be a mistake to build our World Cup preparation around England.
“It’s not just England, there are at least three games to play plus the knockouts if we get there so we have to focus on ourselves.”