The future of French women’s sevens rugby appears to be in rude health after the U18 girls’ team were crowned European champions at the weekend on home soil in Vichy.
A superb 22-0 win over number one seeds Great Britain also presents France’s finest young players with the opportunity of competing at the Youth Olympic Games in Buenos Aires in October.
France qualify for the multi-sport event as regional champions but will only take their place in the six-team line-up if their National Olympic Committee designates rugby as its chosen team sport because, under International Olympic Committee rules, only one male and one female team can attend the Youth Olympic Games from each nation.
Great Britain (2017 champions England in all but name) scored 181 points and France 180 as both sides marched through to the final without conceding any points in reply.
Under the leadership of Clemence Gueucier and Thomas Darracq, the French enjoyed big pool wins against Ukraine (54-0), Germany (32-0) and Italy (22-0) before seeing off Portugal and Ireland in the knockout stages.
Great Britain posted victories over Georgia (52-0), Russia (31-0) and Sweden (54-0) to seal a place in the quarter-finals. They met the Netherlands in the last eight and won impressively 29-0 before a 15-0 semi-final win over Italy set up a final with France.
France weather the storm
While Great Britain versus France was the final most people predicted, the final scoreline probably took even the most partisan of home supporters by surprise.
Played on a mudheap of a pitch caused by incessant rain, the final began with Great Britain enjoying the lion’s share of possession and territory. However, France capitalised on a dropped ball on their 10-metre line to fashion a brilliant counterattack score for Aurélie Plantefeve.
Great Britain continued to press forward but their attempts to play rugby fell foul of the conditions and it was France who crossed again with two minutes of first-half stoppage time played, Lou Noel converting her own try for a 12-0 lead.
More heroic defending kept Great Britain at bay at the start of the second period before they finally broke free and went close to scoring themselves after Celia Roue was hauled down just short of the line.
France maintained field position and eventually forced a turnover at the breakdown which led to a try for livewire scrum-half Alexandra Chambon with 90 seconds left on the clock.
Right at the death, Lucy Hapulat escaped from a tired tackle to cross from 25 metres and round off an exceptional Championship for the home side.