Paris is jumping as Damian Penaud grabs a try double at Stade de France. France thump the Wallabies 41-17 in a perfect dress rehearsal for the World Cup – with no injuries
So, France flex their muscles against Australia and the phoney war is over.
The Summer Nations Series concluded with a sumptuous send-off for the World Cup hosts and favourites as they dismissed Australia 41-17 at Stade de France. Next time we see them in anger it will be to open the 2023 Rugby World Cup against New Zealand a week on Friday.
As a dress rehearsal it could scarcely have gone better. France-Australia clashes have been nail-biters of late, with each of the last six meetings being decided by three points or fewer. Not so this time. After a slightly sticky first half, France eased home with four tries and some near flawless goalkicking from Thomas Ramos and Melvyn Jaminet.
Fly-half Matthieu Jalibert, making a rare start following the World Cup-ending injury sustained by Romain Ntamack, proved an exhilarating spark when les Bleus cut loose in the second half. Best of all, there were no fresh injuries to contend with, for either side.
In extending their record run of home wins to 14 – and 20 wins in 22 Tests all told – France played with a joie de vivre at odds with some of the mundane rugby seen elsewhere across the continent this weekend.
Jonathan Danty’s early strike from a lineout, a bullocking close-range charge, got the ball rolling. Then Damian Penaud scored after Danty’s powerful carry, Jalibert’s break and a pinpoint kick-pass by Antoine Dupont to the winger.
Gabin Villiere scored the next try from a perfect kick pass by Jalibert, and Penaud crossed for his 23rd try in 26 Tests after a beautifully executed chip and chase.
“It was a great performance by us. Our backs stood out tonight,” said lock Paul Willemse.
Australia, condemned to a fifth successive defeat, showed enough threat in patches to suggest they could yet have a good World Cup.
They were unfortunate to trail 16-5 at half-time because while Ramos nailed all four of his kicks at goal, Carter Gordon missed all three of his.
France also conceded two scrum penalties and a rather alarming try after an initial forward drive was repelled.
When Australia moved the ball out, long passes by Gordon and Andrew Kellaway put Mark Nawaqanitawase in acres of space and he crossed in the corner with barely a hand on him. It prompted an earnest discussion about spacing between Damian Penaud and Ramos.
That aside, France’s main concern was probably Australia’s zealousness in contact. Rob Valetini was a little reckless when making contact with Danty at a ruck, Taniela Tupou caught Villiere round the neck, and Nawaqanitawase tackled Grégory Alldritt in the air at a restart.
A nation held its breath when Dupont was slow to get off the ground after a tackle but the world’s best player was into his stride soon enough. He was replaced on the hour mark, France taking off their big guns after the interval in readiness for bigger battles ahead.
Eddie Jones’s team couldn’t cope when France began running the ball from everywhere, including their own line. They again conceded too many penalties, although in the end only one player went to the sin-bin, Suliasi Vunivalu after going off his feet and preventing quick French ball from one of several long-range attacks.
Vunivalu was to finish with a try, a late catch of a hopeful up and under. Flanker Fraser McReight also got the on the scoreboard after Nawaqanitawase had claimed another aerial bomb and France had too little time to reorganise.
France defence coach Shaun Edwards will not be happy with the three tries conceded, but this was a night of optimism and a feel-good vibe.
On the evidence of this weekend, France and South Africa will contest the final at the end of October, although as the saying goes, predicting the future is a fool’s errand. But certainly no one will fancy facing either team in the knockouts.
And if they do end up in the showpiece at the Stade de France, what chance Luke Pearce is given the honour of whistling the final? The Englishman was excellent here, ignoring the regular intimidatory booing from the French fans to make a series of accurate decisions.
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