BY LUKE BAKER – SIXNATIONSRUGBY.COM
Caroline Boujard’s quickfire hat-trick was the highlight of a dazzling display of running rugby as France started the 2021 Women’s Six Nations with a bang by convincingly beating Wales in Vannes.
If reigning champions England had laid down a marker earlier in the day by beating Scotland 52-10, France responded in kind with a scintillating eight-try victory that suggests they are eager to regain the Championship title they last won in 2018.
Winger Boujard crossed the whitewash three times in the opening 15 minutes as Les Bleues produced a scintillating start at Stade de la Rabine, while Agathe Sochat also went over in a first half that saw them outscore their visitors 31-0.
Taking charge of his first game since being named as Wales head coach on a three-year contract in November, Warren Abrahams would have demanded a response at half-time and his team responded with a promising and resilient display after the break.
But, after losing 50-0 to France in the 2020 Championship, they ultimately failed to trouble the scorers again, while Emeline Gros crossed twice for the hosts before Emilie Boulard and Laure Touyé dotted down late on to stretch the home record of Les Bleues to 31 wins in 35 Women’s Six Nations matches.
Wales will now look to bounce back when they host Ireland in Round 2 next weekend, while Annick Hayraud’s troops will head into their rest week buoyed by an impressive all-round performance.
BRILLIANT BOUJARD FLIES OUT OF THE BLOCKS
France got off to the perfect start when Boujard demonstrated some quick-thinking to pick-and-go from a ruck in the Welsh 22 with less than three minutes played – darting through a gap and over the line.
And the flying winger had her second try inside six minutes when Gros ripped the ball away from Jasmine Joyce in the tackle, allowing Morgane Peyronnet to free Boujard for the run-in.
France were playing some dazzling running rugby, moving from inside their own 22 to inches from the Wales line in a single phase before quick hands and a sumptuous Peyronnet offload out of the back of her hand enabled Boujard to complete her hat-trick within the first quarter of an hour.
With Pauline Bourdon impeccable from the tee and dictating the speed of play from scrum-half, Les Bleues looked liable to score from every attacking opportunity but coupled that with a suffocating defensive line that impressively shut down Wales when the visitors had possession.
Another spell in the Welsh 22 ended with Bourdon calmy slotting her fourth kick of the day – this time a penalty – before a textbook catch-and-drive from a five-metre lineout was steered over the line by Sochat to extend the advantage to 31-0 at the break.
GROS AT THE DOUBLE
Wales began the second half strongly and began to show flashes of the expansive new attacking system that Abrahams is implementing but failed to turn territory and possession into points.
And at the other end of the pitch, they were twice caught out by the quick-thinking and pace of France No.8 Gros – aided by a pack that was dominating the physical exchanges.
Firstly, she picked up from the back of a dominant scrum on 52 minutes and burst between tacklers for the score, before rolling off the back of a driving maul ten minutes later and powering over the whitewash.
At 43-0 behind, the visitors could have folded but continued to battle valiantly in defence, holding France up over the line on multiple occasions and demonstrating a commitment that will undoubtedly pay dividends on the scoreboard in the near future.
However, Les Bleues had the final word as firstly debutant full-back Boulard – who impressed all evening – powerfully finished another neat team move in the left corner before replacement hooker Touyé fell over the line from the back of an inexorable driving maul to take the score above 50 points.