Little sparkle as France defeat misfiring Italy

Italian indiscipline ensured the result was never in doubt at Twickenham

France 32 - 10 Italy

It was all blue, more French blue than Italian blue, in Twickenham on Saturday night in Pool D. But it was hardly a spectacle of rugby.

It was the first time the two teams met in a World Cup with France winning after a staccato type performance that failed to reach heights that would strike fear into other teams. But the outcome was never in doubt.

From an Irish perspective Flier Yoann Huget was carried off with what looks like a bad knee injury and may miss the rest of the pool matches.


“It looks like Yoann Huget did his cruciate. This is not good news,” said French coach Philippe Saint-Andre.

It was a game in which France were stronger and faster and dominated territory and won handsomely with two tries in the end but, frustrated, burst into life only intermittently against a dogged opposition.

Early on Italy looked fresh and game with captain and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini spearing through the French middle twice. But from the start France had them under pressure in the scrum, Italy losing four in the first half alone.

Luckily for Italy Freddy Michalak took his time on adjusting his kicking boots and missed two. It was six points France could have done with to keep the scoreboard ticking over but the outhalf was accurate with two and France led 6-0 after the first quarter.

French centre Mathieu Bastareaud made some early big yards off the back of the French lineout but France had only two penetrating attacks of note in the first 40 minutes, one through Huget and the other when Louis Picamoles ripped and bumped three players before chipping on.

Huget's spin forward on nine minutes was the pick of French moves early. He sucked in Italian defenders and when the ball went right Noa Nakaitaci gathered low only to drop it dotting down, an error picked up by TMO forensics.

After the electrification of the tournament by Japan's high tempo win over South Africa, the match lacked any gear changes or fizz.

Italy's problems were compounded when centre Andrea Masi departed with an Achilles injury on 11 minutes and they also surely missed the experience of the injured Sergio Parisse's marshalling in the pack.

But numbers killed Italy. They conceded nine penalties in the first half an hour, six of them in their own half. Over all they coughed up 19 penalties.

Michalak added his third kick from the tee on 29 minutes for 9-0. Tommaso Allan was on target for Italy but a long range effort from fullback Scott Spedding and another for Michalak after Josh Furno made contact in a lineout and France went in 15-3 ahead without finding third gear.

Depressingly Martin Castrogiovanni handed France another penalty after the restart with Michalak taking it to 18-3.

Maybe they knew then the match was over and within minutes the French finally opened up.

A magical run from Nakaitaci down the left and wonderfully taken on by hooker Guihem Guiado took France into the Italy 22. When the Italians appeared to have regrouped Michalak deftly side kicked a threaded ball for the charging prop Rabah Sliman and the first French try for 25-3.

Italy, though, were justly rewarded for their barrage early in the second half. Denied a touch down by the TMO for a imperceptible knock-on, Giovanibattista Venditti knifed in on the right wing as Italy pressed.

Replacement Nicolas Mass bullocked in for the second French try, which Michalak converted for 32-10. But France couldn't control the match for sustained periods and although pleased with the win, the body language spoke of French relief more than joy.

France (starting): S Spedding; Y Huget, M Bastareaud, A Dumoulin, N Nakaitaci; F Michalak, S Tillous-Borde; E Arous, G Guirado, R Slimani, P Pape, Y Maestri, T Dusautoir (c), D Chouly, L Picamoles.

Italy (starting): L McLean; L Sarto, M Campagnaro, A Masi, G Venditti; T Allan, E Gori; M Aguero, L Ghiraldini (C), M Castrogiovani, Q Geldenhuys, J Furno, A Zanni, F Minto, S Vunisa

Referee: C Joubert (SA)

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson

Johnny Watterson is a sports writer with The Irish Times