France’s third victory of the year over Japan at the end of the Autumn Nations Series saw Les Bleus sign off from 2022 with a perfect winning record.

In registering their 10th win from 10, France celebrated becoming only the third men’s team from the established nations to achieve a clean sweep of wins in a calendar year in the professional era after New Zealand in 2013 (14/14) and England in 2016 (13/13).

France’s first Grand Slam in 12 years laid the foundation for a momentous 12 months in which Les Bleus confirmed their credentials as one of the frontrunners to win Rugby World Cup 2023.

Following their Six Nations success, the RWC 2023 host nation sent a shadow squad to Japan in July yet still won the series 2-0 before Australia, South Africa and then Japan, again, were beaten on consecutive weekends in November.

Defence coach Shaun Edwards says the secret behind their success was that they “trained less and recuperated more”.

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 among the established nations with eight tries.

But the defence, marshalled by the indefatigable 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 Autumn 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 and 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.


Now that the dust has settled on a ground-breaking year, Edwards has given us his game-by-game, block-by-block analysis, revealing how the year did not get off to the best of starts.

“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 that 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 the way 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.”


No disrespect to Italy, who went on to show their worth in the remainder of the year, but the game against Ireland, in round two of the 2022 Six Nations, would have been at the back of French minds.

“Ireland had been in great form, there is no doubt about that. The lads are not stupid, they knew it was a huge challenge, for them and for us," admitted Edwards. 

France led from the moment Antoine Dupont scored after 67 seconds but the result was never certain until the final whistle was blown by referee Angus Gardner.

After a titanic encounter in Paris, France prevailed 30-26.

“I was pleased with the way we scored points from our defence in that game. We had prominence in the ruck, which you need to have against Ireland because they are superb there.

“The thing about rugby is that defence helps the attack and attack helps the defence and that’s why being good at both things is so beneficial.”

France were outscored three tries to two and Edwards says the Mack Hansen try – where the scrum cap-wearing Ireland winger leapt high into the sky and plucked the ball out of the air from a restart – was a wake-up call for his team.

“Receiving restarts is something that we have had to work really hard on over the last 12 months and getting out of your half from the restart because it is a large part of the game – almost like a third set-piece.”


With back-to-back victories behind them, France’s squad then enjoyed some time with their families, enabling them to recharge their batteries before the Scotland, Wales and England fixtures.

“What Fabien (Galthié, France’s head coach) decided to do, and it was a masterstroke from him, was to send the guys home. They continued to train at home and we reconvened the following Sunday.

“Eight, nine weeks in a training camp can sometimes be very, very taxing so he decided to let them have more rest and recuperation and I think that definitely played a big part in us winning the Six Nations.”


Having picked up two wins at home, France had to travel to Murrayfield in round three, a venue where they had tasted defeat on their three previous visits in the Six Nations.

However, France produced a highly accomplished performance and rewrote recent history with a 36-17 win.

“Our lads were really, really pumped up for that game; the taste of defeat is very motivational," Edwards revealed. 

“Romain (Ntamack) was marvellous that day, and Antoine (Dupont) was excellent in defence. When your half-backs are playing well, normally your team is playing well.”


The win over Scotland was another significant step towards the elusive Six Nations Grand Slam but another difficult obstacle lay before them, Wales away.

Given his long association with the opposition as their former defence coach, the 13-9 win was particularly special for Edwards.

“The good thing about rugby is that some people like to see 35-34 games and others like to see tough, tactical battles where defences are defending to a very high level and the kicking game and the set-piece is a battle. I fall into the latter category.

“Don’t get me wrong I love to see tries as well – as long as they don’t go against us – and that was a game where the defence tried to suffocate the attack.

“The kicking game from Dan Biggar that evening was absolutely world-class. He probably didn’t deserve to be on the losing side just like some of the other Welsh lads, but we managed to win a game where two years before we might have lost.”


By now Grand Slam talk was front and centre of the agenda, and Edwards says Les Bleus lapped up the attention rather than shying away from the spotlight in the build-up to the finale against England.

“After the Wales game we kind of earned that ‘Grand Slam week’, which I’ve been lucky to have three times with Wales, where you know the Six Nations trophy is on the line.

“You get a lot of press, you get a lot of attention and, let’s face it, you have earned it and I think the lads enjoyed the build-up.

“And obviously it was against England who are an outstanding team and a team who have beaten us the last two times, very closely, but nonetheless they had beaten us.”

Relaxed about the job at hand, France outclassed England when it mattered and delivered their first Grand Slam in 12 years with a comfortable 25-13 win in Paris.

“We were never behind but England felt they could come back at us hard in the second half. But when Antoine scored the try, I think it was all over. He delivered at a vital time which is a habit that great players have.”


For Edwards, who’d joined the France coaching staff after Rugby World Cup 2019 following 11 trophy-laden years with Wales, the feeling was more of relief than celebration.

“I had been brought over here as a person who had won four Six Nations before, and as a person who had delivered a lot of trophies for Wasps and Wales, and to go the first two years without winning it was resting quite heavily on my shoulders," he admitted. 

“So, for me, it was absolute relief we had delivered with this improving, young team and things that we had worked on in training – having more control in the last 10-15 minutes in games and things like that – had all come to fruition.

“The support we had from the French fans was pretty special. If you make your supporters really proud of their team, of their lads or ladies, then you are doing a pretty good job.

“The fans are not stupid, they can see a team that works hard, they can see a team that has got the right attitude and they can see a team who won’t take a backward step.”


With many of France’s leading lights rested after a long and arduous Top 14 campaign, France’s winning run could easily have been derailed on the two-test tour of Japan.

However, France’s strength in depth was more evident than ever as the youngsters and fringe players entrusted to wear the jersey stepped up to the mark to deliver two wins, 42-23 and 20-15.

“I think it was a marvellous thing to go over there and to come away with two victories because it came on the back of a long, hard Top 14 season, and the matches were played in boiling hot conditions, it was stiflingly hot, so I am told,” said Edwards, who stayed behind in France with the likes of Dupont and captain Charles Ollivon.

“You are going into July and some of these lads had been playing for nearly 11 months at that stage, certainly training for that long but the motivation was still high.

“I thought it was a very strong performance, from what wasn’t what you would call our first team, against a proud Japan team who in the past have been giant killers and have given a lot of teams a lot of trouble.”


The Autumn Nations Series opener against Australia was France’s first game together as a first-team squad since the England win back in March and Les Bleus were relieved to come away with a thrilling 30-29 victory.

"We had a few injuries going into the series and I was very worried about the Australia game because I know Australia are a real threat. When they turn up with the right attitude and when they have got anything like their best team, for me they are a top-ranked team," Edwards said. 

“Also, you’ve got to remember that we hadn’t played together for seven/eight months. You can’t really count Japan because those tests were with a different team. It is not easy for lads to hit their form straight away but I actually thought we did very, very well.

“I thought our defence was okay even though we conceded quite a lot of points. They scored one try (by Lalakai Foketi) from a turnover which was incredible, you almost had to stand up and start clapping it because it was such a marvellous try. But we created a lot of turnovers at the ruck, I think it was nine or 10, and that definitely benefitted our attack.

“It was probably a good example of where international rugby is at the moment – a lot of points and a lot of close scorelines. Let’s be honest, it is pretty exciting. I am quite mystified sometimes by the older players who say the game is not as good as it used to be.”


It was Damian Penaud’s late try that secured France a record-breaking 11th straight test win but Thomas Ramos also made a huge contribution by booting 20 points.

“He has got my ultimate respect, Thomas Ramos because he has shown what a fighter he is. I am proud to have coached him," enthused Edwards. 

“He is such an intelligent player, he is so smart, and his positional play is brilliant. If you look at the number of times he catches the ball on the full when someone kicks it, it is not by accident, it is because of his instinct.

“I think he hardly missed any kicks at goal either, he was over 80 per cent, which is vital in modern-day rugby.”


France then took on and beat world champions, South Africa, 30-26 in Marseilles, in spite of Dupont’s red card for taking Cheslin Kolbe out in the air

For Edwards, 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. 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 Autumn 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.”


Having established a 21-3 lead at half-time, France went on to beat Japan 35-17 in their final test of the year.

Playing three big tests on consecutive weekends, France used the Autumn Nations Series as a dress rehearsal for the knockout stages of the Rugby World Cup.

“To play in the quarter-final, semi-final and final is a very difficult thing to do, and while we’re not saying we are definitely going to be there, this was the only chance you have to replicate the situation," revealed Edwards. 

“We tried to put some pressure on the players (by using it as a Rugby World Cup scenario), to see if they were mentally strong enough to deliver three consecutive high-level performances.

“We had a couple of problems with our ruck defence, it was a little bit slow at times, but that was more technical stuff, the attitude was very good.

“If ever there is a team that plays for 80 minutes, it is Japan, they never give in and we ended up having an okay victory.”