France ended 2022 with an unbeaten record as they beat Japan 35-17 in Toulouse, becoming only the third nation ever to finish a year without defeat.
This was Les Bleus’ 13th successive win as they condemned the Brave Blossoms to a fifth straight loss in an entertaining game despite the wet conditions.
France‘s tries came via Damian Penaud (2), Charles Ollivon and Anthony Jelonch while Thomas Ramos kicked 15 points in front of his home supporters.
Naoto Saito and Siosaia Fifita crossed for Japan in the second half, with Seung Sin Lee slotting seven points via the tee as the visitors fought until the end.
Japan started the meeting in impressive fashion as Kazuki Himeno burst through non-existent French ruck defence to take his side into the opposition 22. A penalty soon came for offside and the Brave Blossoms opted for the corner instead of posts and it backfired, with Les Bleus avoiding an early setback on the scoreboard.
France regrouped and on eight minutes did what Japan couldn’t when Romain Ntamack’s kick through was eventually grounded by Penaud for a 5-0 lead.
Ramos couldn’t add the difficult extras but he made amends with a couple of penalties before the 17 minute mark, making it 11-0 to a settled looking France.
Japan did get on the board soon after via a Lee penalty but Ramos was on target again 10 minutes later after Ryoto Nakamura was penalised at a breakdown.
France were calmly building their score by threes as the prospect of an unbeaten year was possibly on their mind. However, they would have their second try before the break when scrum-half Maxime Lucu – in for the suspended Antoine Dupont – weaved his way through the lineout traffic before sending Ollivon over for 21-3.
That was the half-time score but Japan came out from the interval firing, with Saito finishing off a run from Shogo Nakano to reduce the lead to 11 points.
Impact from Matthieu Jalibert
Neither side could trouble the scoreboard for the next 18 minutes until replacement Matthieu Jalibert’s chip and chase led to Penaud scoring on the left wing.
With Ramos’ successful conversion it was now 28-10 but once again the Brave Blossoms would not give up their charge, with hooker Atsushi Sakate’s inside ball to wing Fifita capping a perfectly executed lineout move. Lee added the conversion and the match was back to an 11-point margin with less than a quarter to play.
An old France side might have started to feel the pressure, but this is a different animal under Fabien Galthie and Les Bleus weren’t deterred, with centre Jonathan Danty going incredibly close to grounding on the right wing before another Jalibert chip kick resulted in Danty finding Jelonch to add the gloss to a fine year.
France’s perfect 2022 stands them in excellent stead going into a Rugby World Cup year and they will rightly enter their home tournament as heavy favourites.