Match report: France battle past Italy
March 9, 2008
Yannick Jauzion breaches the Italian defence to score
© Getty Images
France saw off a determined Italy 25-13 in their Six Nations Championship clash at the Stade de France in Paris. Les Bleus needed a victory to avoid relinquishing the crown they have held for the past two years to unbeaten Wales and, despite not firing on all cylinders, they did what they had to.
Anthony Floch, starting for the first time for his country, went over for their only try of the first half, with Yannick Jauzion and Aurelien Rougerie adding others after the break. Dimitri Yachvili was impressive on his return to the Test arena after a year in the wilderness, the Biarritz scrum-half kicking 10 points via two penalties and two conversions.
France will need to post a massive win at the Millennium Stadium next Saturday to keep hold of their title. That prospect is unlikely and they did not totally impress against an Italy side that scrapped like lions but failed to register their first win of the tournament.
Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni plundered over for their only try and full-back Andrea Marcato booted eight points, but they are staring down the barrel at another wooden spoon. The Azzurri came into the match never having beaten France in the Six Nations and having conceded 132 points in their last three tournament games against their transalpine rivals.
But a landslide result was not expected here, given France's fallibility in their pack of late and head coach Marc Lievremont's decision to make nine changes in another experimental line-up. Italy put up a good fight in a scrappy first half that saw handling and set-piece errors. France should have put points on the board in the fourth minute when they were awarded a penalty close to the Italian try-line.
Les Bleus captain Lionel Nallet chose a tap-and-go rather than a kick at goal but botched his quick kick and the chance was lost. France had the better of the early possession though, and produced a well-worked try in the 13th minute to open the scoring.
A rolling maul saw them gain 30 metres and when the ball was eventually recycled out, fly-half Francois Trinh-Duc sent a crossfield kick to the left corner. Julien Malzieu was the grateful recipient and he patted the ball down to Clermont-Auvergne team-mate Floch, who dived over from close range.
Yachvili booted the conversion but Marcato punished Louis Picamoles for a nonsensical offside with a 40-yard penalty to make it 7-3 moments later. Italy then wasted a glorious chance to take the lead in the 22nd minute. Leonardo Ghiraldini held off a tackle from Yachvili to scamper down the left touchline and he fed inside for Gonzalo Canale.
All the centre had to do was collect the pass and the try was his, but he fumbled 10 metres out. The hosts' line-out was malfunctioning badly but they extended their lead in the 27th minute when Yachvili slotted over a penalty after the recalled Jauzion was taken out off the ball.
Marcato and Yachvili swapped penalties in the last 10 minutes of the first half as the game remained close, but France looked to have got a vital score in the 52nd minute when Jauzion went over in the left corner. Yachvili did the clever work, pulling away from an umpteenth forward incursion by the French pack and chipping a kick over the top of a static defence.
Toulouse star Jauzion was quickest to pounce and collect a friendly bounce to plunder over. Twelve points in arrears, Italy knew they had to hit back quickly and they did just that. They turned down a kick at goal in the 57th minute in favour of an attacking line-out and the ploy worked a treat.
The throw was taken and Castrogiovanni, a try-scorer against Wales a fortnight ago, was at the base of an unstoppable rolling maul to dive over in the right corner. Marcato converted but France were not to be undone.
They were denied a try on the hour mark when video replays confirmed Rougerie was held up over the line following a stunning tackle by Mirco Bergamasco. But the winger got his own back in the 64th minute, running onto a superb offload by substitute Damien Traille and powering through a midfield gap to ground under the posts.
Yachvili converted and that proved to be the final score as Italy failed to find a cutting edge in the final 10 minutes, despite bossing possession and territory.
France (13) 25
Italy (6) 13
France: A Floch; A Rougerie (both Clermont-Auvergne), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), Y David (Bourgoin), J Malzieu (Clermont-Auvergne); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), D Yachvili (Biarritz); F Barcella (Auch), D Szarzewski (Stade Francais), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Castres, capt), J Thion (Biarritz), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), I Diarra (Montauban), L Picamoles (Montpellier).
Replacements: G Guirado (Perpignan), J-B Poux (Toulouse), A Mela (Albi), J Bonnaire (Clermont-Auvergne), J Tomas (Montpellier), D Traille (Biarritz), V Clerc (Toulouse).
Italy: Andrea Marcato, Kaine Robertson, Gonzalo Canale, Mirco Bergamasco, Ezio Galon, Andrea Masi, Simon Picone, Sergio Parisse (capt), Alessandro Zanni, Josh Sole, Marco Bortolami, Carlo Antonio Del Fava, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: Fabio Ongaro, Carlos Nieto, Salvatore Perugini, Jacobus Erasmus, Pietro Travagli, Enrico Patrizio, Alberto Sgarbi.
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies