France made to work by Italy but keep Grand Slam dream alive

Les Bleus earn a bonus point to go top of the table but Azzurri fight until the end in Paris

Romain Ntamack celebrates after scoring France’s fourth try against Italy. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty

Romain Ntamack celebrates after scoring France’s fourth try against Italy. Photograph: Mike Hewitt/Getty

 

France 35 Italy 22

France moved top of the Six Nations standings as they claimed a bonus point in an otherwise unimpressive 35-22 defeat of a weak Italy on Sunday.

Les Bleus, who stunned World Cup runners-up England in their opening game last Sunday, prevailed with tries by Teddy Thomas, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt, Romain Ntamack and Baptiste Serin.

Ntamack kicked eight points and Matthieu Jalibert another two.

France number eight Gregory Alldritt celebrates his try with Antoine Dupont. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/Getty/AFP
France number eight Gregory Alldritt celebrates his try with Antoine Dupont. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/Getty/AFP

Italy enjoyed a few good spells with tries by Matteo Minozzi, Federico Ziani and Mattia Bellini, and points from the boot of Tommaso Allan, but they had to settle for their 24th consecutive defeat in the tournament.

Fabien Galthie’s side lead the table with nine points, ahead of Ireland on points difference with the two sides, who meet in the final super Saturday, the only two still with a shot at a grand slam.

Ntamack had a poor day with the boot with only three out of seven attempts made, but fierce winds at the Stade de France make kicking highly unpredictable.

France, who lost wing Vincent Rattez through injury, were always in control having beaten England 24-17 in a spectacular opener, but they will need to up their game again when they visit defending champions Wales in two weeks’ time.

“It’s not normal for us to have conceded all those penalties, but we’ll definitely focus on that in the weeks to come,” said French second row Paul Willemse.

Italy made a better impression than during their opening 42-0 loss in Wales.

“We improved our performance compared to last week, today we played a bit more attacking, but we still need a bit more patience when we get in the opposition 22,” said Allan.

Matteo Minozzi dives to score against France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA
Matteo Minozzi dives to score against France. Photograph: Ian Langsdon/EPA

Les Bleus dominated from the start and Thomas touched down for 8-0 after picking up a grubber kick from Ntamack, who had scored an early penalty.

Ollivon barged through to score France’s second try but Ntamack missed the conversion.

Minozzi, however, pulled one try back on the left wing to give the Azzurri their first points of the tournament with Allan adding the extras.

Dupont spotted the unmarked Alldritt on the left flank and found the number eight with a delightful long pass for France’s third try and a 13-point halftime lead after Ntamack’s conversion from point-blank range hit both posts before going in.

Ntamack made a dazzling run to give the hosts their fourth try and the bonus point on the hour.

Demba Bamba and captain Charles Ollivon celebrate a France try against italy. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/Getty/AFP
Demba Bamba and captain Charles Ollivon celebrate a France try against italy. Photograph: Philippe Lopez/Getty/AFP

Italy stayed in contention as Ziani dived over at the foot of the posts and Allan converted to reduce the arrears to 11 points.

The game was still France’s to lose, however, and Serin, who had just replaced the brilliant Dupont at scrumhalf, beat two Italy defenders to the ball to score his team’s fifth try with five minutes left.

Bellini sped down the right flank to score a last-gasp try for the visitors but it was far too late to spoil France’s victory party.

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