'Beating Boks was marvelous': Edwards on France's flawless year
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: France defence coach Shaun Edwards has dropped some gems following his team’s perfect winning record in 2022.
France recorded 10 wins from 10 games last year – becoming only the third team to achieve this feat in the professional after New Zealand in 2013 (14/14) and England in 2016 (13/13).
Les Blues recorded their first Six Nations Grand Slam in 12 years, followed by wins over Australia and World Cup Champions South Africa in November.
In their perfect run, Les Bleus demonstrated plenty of the attacking flair they are renowned for and as a result, the exhilarating Damian Penaud finished the calendar year as the leading try-scorer amongst the established nations with eight tries.
But the defence, marshalled by the indefatigable Shaun Edwards, played an equally important role with Les Blues conceding the fewest tries per match on average (1.7) than any other team.
In the November Nations Series, only Italy conceded fewer penalties than France’s tally of 29 which only included three for foul play.
Remarkably, France went through the whole year without receiving a single yellow card. Their only blot on the disciplinary front was the red card issued to Antoine Dupont in the 30-26 win over South Africa in the penultimate game of the season.
Speaking to World Rugby, Edwards revealed the secret behind their success was that they “trained less and recuperated more”.
“We’d had a difficult training camp, in the first week. Some players had COVID-19, and some had niggling injuries.
Normally you do your hard work in that first week and because of the injuries and illness, we weren’t able to do that, not to the intensity we would have liked. What we had to do was play ourselves into some form and I think we did that against Italy,” he said.
The 37-10 scoreline suggests France strolled to victory at the Stade de France; however, the Azzurri fired a shot across their bows by scoring the first try, at the end of the first quarter, through debutant Tommaso Menoncello.
Italy only trailed by two points at the break but a hat-trick from Gabin Villiere saw France pull away in the second half.
“We didn’t start off the best but what I was really pleased about was how we handled the situation,” said Edwards.
“We didn’t try and solve it immediately or try and overplay, it was a wet day and the conditions weren’t great, but we slowly got ourselves back in the game.
“We kicked for territory, got a few penalties, got a try, got another, and worked our way back in. It was quite a mature way to handle the situation.
“Gabby profited from the good work inside of him and it couldn’t have happened to a better lad, he’s a great bloke.”
France went on to win beat No.1 ranked team Ireland and secured the over Wales, England, and Scotland for the Grand Slam.
They also edge Australia in the November Test series opener, however, the game that stood out for Edwards was beating the Springboks.
Beating the best
Reflecting on France’s 30-26 win over world champions, South Africa in Marseilles, in spite of Dupont’s red card for taking Cheslin Kolbe out in the air, Edwards said it was a landmark win.
“The World Rugby Rankings are brilliant for fans, to see how their team is doing, and I know Ireland are top,” Edwards said.
“But, for me, South Africa are the best team in the world because they are the reigning world champions and I think for a lot of the November Nations Series, they played like world champions.
“They were everything that people talk about – they were powerful and physical and probably the best in the world at mauls and scrums – but they are so much more than that.
“They have got so much speed on the edges and score a lot of tries from inside their own half, so to beat them was marvellous.”
France will hope to continue their form in 2023 as they kick off their Six Nations title defence on February 5 against Italy.
*Additional source: @WorldRugby