Every part of France's Grand Slam victory in the Women's Six Nations 2014 seemed to be made for the French. That year, France was also preparing to host Rugby World Cup from 1-17 August.
Captain Gaëlle Mignot wore the armband for the first time on the day of the fifth and final round of that Championship, 14 March, a week after International Women's Day. Mignot would keep the armband until her international retirement in June 2021.
At 18:30 local time, the Stade du Hameau in Pau quietly welcomed the nighttime. The day had been sunny and France had won their four previous Six Nations matches up until that point. They were about to play Ireland, the defending champions who had won twice in the tournament, in their final match.
"We had a great group," recalls France's second/back-row Safi N'Diaye. Jennifer Troncy, Elodie Poublan, Christelle Le Duff, Elodie Portariés, Laëtitia Grand, Lise Arricastre, Shannon Izar, Sandrine Agricole, Marjorie Mayans, Camille Grassineau, Jessy Trémoulière and Yanna Rivoalen were among that squad.
The unstoppable Bleues
Going into that game, ambitions were high. After 2002, 2004 and 2005, France was 80 minutes away from winning the Grand Slam for a fourth time. Since the start of the 2014 tournament, Les Bleues seemed invincible. They hadn't conceded a single try in four matches. Their defence seemed unbreakable.
After kick-off, France quickly found their stride and Marion Lièvre crossed the goal line in the sixth minute after a series of plays started by N'Diaye. The score remained 5-0 until half-time and the atmosphere was electric among the 8,500 spectators around the pitch.
"That year, we felt that women's rugby was growing quickly in France. There were more and more people at the stadium, more and more people were watching the game on TV and there had been a lot of promotion. The image of women's rugby was changing. We were all excited and relished playing in that moment," recalled N'Diaye, whose first cap came two years earlier against Scotland.
After the half-time break, France scored again, first through Portariés and then Izar before Ireland scored their first try on the hour mark through Gillian Bourke. Despite a collective try from the Irish in the 72nd minute, Les Bleus won the match 19-15.
A precious moment in an empty stadium
"It was my first Grand Slam and it remains engraved in my memory, like the one in 2018," said N'Diaye. "At the end of the match, we stayed on the field for a long time, a very long time, savouring the moment between us. We didn't even want to go and shower! We wanted to talk to each other, to enjoy that moment. In the end it was just us and the empty stadium."
New captain Mignot had already shown her leadership skills, motivating her charges to go into battle and not give up, as she would do throughout her career.
This Grand Slam, a few months before a home Rugby World Cup, put France on the right track.
"We were on a good run," N'Diaye conceded. "This victory brought the group together. Many of us were experiencing our first World Cup and we wanted to continue winning titles and experiencing those emotions. We wanted it to never end."
This generation, which succeeded the pioneers who had pushed for women's rugby to be highlighted, helped shape French rugby as we know it today.
"I play today with girls who started playing international rugby after 2014 and who were actually in the stadiums in 2014. They tell me: 'I saw you win the Grand Slam!' It makes me laugh.
"We haven't noticed the years go by, so it's an interesting realisation. But I'm proud that with this group we were able to make little girls dream," N'Diaye said.
This 2014 Grand Slam was a milestone in the history of French women's rugby.