France completed a calendar year of test rugby with a perfect winning record for the first time after topping a competitive Japan 35-17 on Sunday.
France's 10th win in 10 tests and third defeat of Japan this year never looked in doubt after the opening minutes.
The Tricolores dominated up front and steadily built a 21-3 lead by halftime. Then the rain stopped, the play opened up, and Japan was more comfortable with a dry ball. Both sides added two tries each and Japan joined France in a lap of honor that the packed crowd savored at Stadium de Toulouse.
The milestone victory also extended France's year-long record winning streak to 13 tests — including everyone else ranked in the top 10 — and it heads toward the new Rugby World Cup year threatening the men's world record of 18 straight wins.
The autumn series sweep of Australia, South Africa and Japan on consecutive weekends was scenarioed by France as World Cup knockout matches. It wasn't entirely successful according to defense coach Shaun Edwards.
“If you're serious about the World Cup, you have to play extremely well in the quarterfinal, the semifinal and even better in the final, which we didn't do today,” Edwards said. "We dropped a level a bit today. We’re going to have to sort that out.”
Still, France celebrated becoming only the third men's tier one side to achieve a perfect season in the professional era after New Zealand in 2013 and England in 2016.
The Japanese will return to Toulouse for the World Cup. The southwest city is their base and the stadium will host two of their games.
This one, though, was quick to get away from Japan. France was quickly into stride. Scrumhalf Maxime Lucu, playing in place of suspended captain Antoine Dupont, marshalled his big forwards in the rain and they dominated the gain line and breakdowns. They were held back by unwise offloads, the slippery ball, and gritty defense.
At the end of a long buildup, wing Damian Penaud signalled flyhalf Romain Ntamack to grubber into space, and toed the ball on. Fullback Ryohei Yamanaka couldn't control it behind the tryline and Penaud pounced for his seventh try this year.
Thomas Ramos, at his home ground, knocked over three consecutive penalties, and converted a try by flanker Charles Ollivon, who supported a break by Lucu from a lineout.
The new half in drying conditions encouraged Japan. Center Shogo Nakano broke from a ruck 70 meters out and gave scrumhalf Naoto Saito a try to match the one he scored last weekend in the heavy loss to England at Twickenham.
When France began to clear its bench, starting hooker Julien Marchand left to huge applause. He was second in carries only to Gregory Alldritt.
Replacement flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert set up both of their second-half tries by gathering his own chipkicks. Penaud finished one try, and flanker Anthony Jelonch the other while bathed in sunshine.
In between, Japan executed a lineout move and an inside pass from captain Atsushi Sakate for a try to wing Siosaia Fifita.
Fifita was the villain moments later when his tackle on Jonathan Danty was just enough to prevent a try by forcing the flying center to plant the ball on the touchline beside the corner flag.
“We got our defense right, creating a lot of mistakes,” Japan coach Jamie Joseph said. “But those 50/50 moments, we couldn't capitalize and they could.”
Without a tournament, Japan played only seven tests this year and lost the last five to superpowers France, England and New Zealand. Japan hasn't beaten a tier one team since the 2019 World Cup.
Joseph was encouraged by his slow-building side but lamented the exit of Japan's Sunwolves from Super Rugby.
“We really improved our footy when we were part of Super Rugby,” he said. “We can't play international rugby at this level without some serious rugby.”© Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.