France beat the all Blacks 27-13, with Penaud scoring one of two tries for the hosts
The Stade de France was bouncing. The stade de France was shaking. The Stade de France was sweating. And in the middle of it, one of their favourite sons was waving his arms and diving empty handed and giving the home fans something to roar over.
It is something else, watching a Damian Penaud performance in the flesh.
Earlier in the game he was marauding sideways across the field, looking for gaps in the defence. Only to be met with, well, more bodies in black.
He appeared to be feeding off the emotional energy of the crowd, though. In the second half he had all but stopped trying to catch Mark Telea as he headed for his second try, to wildly gesticulate to the officials that the looping pass to the Kiwi was forward. It was not judged to be, but the chorus of dissent had other thoughts.
Then, with the overlap later Penaud dived for the line in a smidgeon of space – only for an incredible cover tackle from Richie Mo’unga to dislodge the ball from his hands and whack it into touch.
And yet, the chances kept coming and eventually, he did what he loves most, going over for the score. And the crowd could not thank him enough.
Whenever Penaud is playing there is an assumption that he will pull a face for the camera. He is a banker. Every game there will be a look, a gesture, a wildness in the eyes that sums up the erratic brilliance of the man. We got such a moment in Paris.
The whoosh of noise after he scored his try tells you exactly what the French people think of this Damian Penaud performance. He is theirs, and they love him. Every mad atom of him.
When he spilled ball just outside the All Blacks 22, there were no jeers for the wing. Only an appreciation for his attacking endeavour. When he almost cottoned on to a cross kick with five minutes to go, and it felt like something amazing was going to happen, only for things to splutter, the man himself could not suppress a grin.
It was a performance riddled with errors and what-ifs… and think of all the French youngsters buzzing because they were there to see it.
There were others who were excellent for France. Gregory Alldritt is a marvel. Matthieu Jalibert showed superb control. But on this night, why not go a little Penaud?
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