France finally run clear of Italy in second half
Les Bleus secure bonus-point win in Rome to consign Italy to wooden spoon
Louis Picamoles scores France’s third try during the Six Nations match against Italy at Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Photograph: Alessandro Bianchi/ Reuters
Italy 18 France 40
Italy eschewed the tactic of standing off at rucks that perplexed England but were nevertheless beaten 40-18 by France at the Stadio Olimpico and will collect the Six Nations wooden spoon for a second straight season.
Coach Conor O’Shea’s side stunned England a fortnight ago, for long periods looking like causing a shock at Twickenham before succumbing to their hosts.
The Azzurri reverted to traditional tactics yet suffered a 10th consecutive Six Nations home loss while Les Bleus won away in the competition for the first time in two years, going back to their previous visit to Rome.
Italy, playing in white shirts with France in dark blue, paid the price of missing many more tackles than their opponents, who secured a second win of 2017.
France led 16-11 at the break as midway through the first half Gael Fickou cancelled out Sergio Parisse’s early try.
A try for recalled wing Virimi Vakatawa early in the second period pulled the visitors clear and, having survived some intense home pressure, they scored again through Louis Picamoles and Brice Dulin, another man returning to the team, to earn a bonus point. Angelo Esposito crossed for a late consolation.
Outhalves Camille Lopez and Carlo Canna were flawless with their goal-kicking, the former adding four penalties to as many conversions. Canna landed two penalties and two conversions.
In glorious Rome sunshine France handed a debut to young flanker Fabien Sanconnie in one of four alterations to the starting line-up that lost to Ireland. The 22-year-old came in alongside fullback Dulin, Vakatawa and lock Julien Le Devedec.
Italy made three changes from defeat to England, calling up Canna, wing Esposito and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.
The hosts started well and Canna made an immediate impact, selling a fourth-minute dummy deep in France’s 22 and passing to Parisse who had a simple task to score on the left.
Five minutes later Lopez reduced the advantage, slotting a penalty from in front of the posts.
Canna and Lopez exchanged straightforward penalties just before France went ahead in the 22nd minute.
Attacking from deep, France produced their first flowing move, which resulted in Fickou going under the posts after he dummied just outside Italy’s 22.
Italy continued to attack impressively and Canna reduced the arrears with a 28th-minute penalty, only for Lopez to soon restore a five-point advantage with a place-kick from the right.
The France number 10 stretched the lead with a penalty early in the second period but Italy fullback Edoardo Padovani then kept it in check with a try-saving tackle after Fickou broke from his 22 and fed powerful Vakatawa on the left wing.
It was a temporary measure, though, as the visitors stayed on the attack and Vakatawa went under the posts from close range.
O’Shea threw on several substitutes who helped to produce a period of home pressure that was almost rewarded when Giorgio Bronzini went over in the left corner but was held up.
France held firm and turned the tables on 67 minutes, number eight Picamoles breaking from a five-metre scrum to score on the left.
Eddy Ben Arous thought he had scored a bonus-point try but multiple slow-motion replays showed Esposito had dragged Picamoles’s foot into touch.
However, a fourth try soon came through a break down the right that fed Dulin to go under the sticks.
The home supporters had late reason for cheer when Esposito scored in the left corner, but it was France’s day.