Italy 24 France 29
A game in which the Italians were pressing hard at the end sensing a victory over last year’s Grand Slam champions tells us something about the troubled French visit to Rome and it tells Ireland that it will not be the same this week when the sides meet in Dublin.
France played in second gear, sometimes got into third gear but never topped out in a match that gifted them early tries and in a frantic end could easily have slipped away from them had Italy an attacking lineout maul in their armoury.
French discipline was poor, especially in the first half where they gave away their ninth penalty for Tommaso Allan to kick Italy to 14-19 at halftime, the home side having handed France two early tries from botched exits from their 22 to get the scoreboard rolling.
By then English referee Matthew Carley was talking to French captain and man of the match, Antoine Dupont, about his team’s discipline and promising a card next time they defaulted.
France were not sharp, were not dominating the breakdown and did not look like they wanted to be in the Stadio Olimpico in a low energy, entirely out of sorts effort. Even their incendiary backline couldn’t catch fire, the upside being that it, nonetheless, earned them a blessed bonus point win.
Irish coach Andy Farrell will see it only one way. Ireland will prepare for a readjusted French team that hopes to win the World Cup later this year. In that respect, the French ghosts that arrived in Italy is a head melt in predicting what is coming next.
By 15 minutes, France had butchered two certain tries opportunities and scored one when Thibaud Flament blocked scrumhalf Stephen Varney’s box kick and dashed to score for 0-7.
That came after Damian Penaud dropped the ball for a clean run-in try and Charles Ollivon let the ball slip at a touchdown. Still when Romain Ntamack kicked cross field right and Penaud collided with Ange Capuozzo, fullback Thomas Ramos was there to dot down for 3-12.
It was Ntamack again that Crossfield kicked left, this time to Ethan Dumortier after Gregory Aldritt had turned over the ball inside the Italian 22. With no defensive cover the left wing glided in for 6-19.
It was happening too easily for France. They had three tries all from scrappy Italian play. But then Capuozzo trucked up on the blind side of an Italian ruck.
Varney fed him and the fullback took off. Aldritt grabbed him in the corner but a superb diving finish brought his tally to six tries from eight caps and Italy back in the game at 11-19, Allan kicking three more for 14-19 and halftime.
Ollivon was then binned on 52 minutes for collapsing a maul just feet from the French line earning a penalty try for Italy and a yellow card for the openside flanker, the score 21-22. Allan then kicked a penalty for 24-22 just after the hour as the crowd rose and Italy took the lead for the first time.
Minutes later outhalf Ntamack was replaced by Mathieu Jalibert. Power from a French lineout maul recycled to replacement Romain Taofifenua and it was Jalibert knifing in from the pass and Ramos converting for 24-29.
Allan tried from long range but pulled his kick wide on 73 minutes as the momentum shifted Italy’s way. France sensed the energy change with the home side galvanising for a slightly chaotic finish.
Relieved, frustrated, delighted at the final whistle, France earned their 14th win in succession with a Dublin welcome now awaiting.
Scoring sequence – 4 mins T Flament try, Ramos con 0-7; 13 mins T Allan pen 3-7; 18 mins T Ramos try 3-12; 22 mins T Allan pen 6-12; 26 mins E Dumartier try, Ramos con 6-19; 31 mins A Capuozzo try 11-19; 41 mins T Allan pen 14-19. Halftime. 46 mins T Ramos pen 14-22; 50 mins pen try 21-22; 61 mins T Allan pen 24-22; 67 mins M Jalibert try, Ramos con 24-29.
Italy: A Capuozzo; P Bruno, J Ignacio Brex, L Morisi, T Menoncello; T Allan, S Varney; D Fischetti, G Nicotera, S Ferrari, N Cannone, F Ruzza, S Negri, M Lamaro (c), L Cannone
Replacements: P Ceccarelli for Ferrari 57 mins; M Zuliani for Negri 65 mins; E Padovani for Bruno 66 mins; E Iachizzi for Nicoters, G Pettinelli for L Cannone, F Zani for Fischetti 68 mins; A Fusco for Varney 75 mins
France: T Ramos; D Penaud, G Fickou, Y Moefana, E Dumortier; R Ntamack, A Dupont (c); C Baille, J Marchand, U Atonio, T Flament, P Willemse, A Jelonch, C Ollivon, G Alldritt
Replacements: R Wardi for Baille 52 mins, Si Falatea for Atonio 52 mins; R Taofifenua for Willemse 53 mins; S Macalou for Aldritt, G Barlot for Marchand 61 mins; M Jalibert for Ntamack 65 mins
Yellow card: Ollivon 51 mins
Referee: M Carley (RFU)