Italy condemned tournament favourites France to a shock 23-18 Six Nations defeat at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday.
Italy condemned France to a shock 23-18 Six Nations defeat at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Sunday.
It was a sensational victory for the Azzurri who have now managed to beat Les Bleus twice in the last two years following their famous win in 2011.
France – favourites to win the Championship heading into this match – must now pick themselves up for next Saturday's clash with Wales in Paris. Italy, in contrast, now have critical momentum that will serve them well when they make the trip to Edinburgh to tackle Scotland.
It's been a highly entertaining opening round of Six Nations rugby and this final hit-out of the weekend certainly didn't disappoint as both sides produced two tries apiece in a pulsating match filled with some heart-stopping moments at the death (no pun intended).
Indeed, Italy and their supporters were put through a frantic finale with France desperately seeking a late score to win the match. Despite being under sustained scrum pressure after replacement hooker Davide Giazzon was sin-binned two minutes from time, Italy held on – giving them an opening weekend Six Nations win for the first time since 2003.
Italy raced out of the starting blocks first and struck the opening blow after five minutes courtesy of sublime brilliance from fly-half Luciano Orquera. His ability to freeze the opposition defence surfaced in all its glory, with three French defenders transfixed as he broke out of Italy's half before delivering a scoring pass to captain Sergio Parisse.
Orquera's conversion made it 7-0.
Despite some resilient defensive work from Italy after keeping Florian Fritz inches out from the tryline, France spread the ball to the left and hit back through number eight Louis Picamoles who didn't need a second invitation to score.
Frederic Michalak failed to find his target, but France were on the board.
Italy were once again in territorial control, and it was that man Orquera who extended his team's lead thanks to a cheeky drop-goal and a penalty in the 15th and 18th minutes respectively (13-5).
Michalak managed to raise the flags with his first penalty attempt after Italy were pinged at scrum-time, and then put his side in front for the first time of the match after converting Benjamin Fall's try in the 33rd minute.
It was Yoann Huget who sparked the move that hauled Les Bleus level, running aggressively from just inside Italy's half to leave Fall with a clear run-in besides the posts.
The seven-pointer secured France a 15-13 lead at the break. And the big question on everyone's lips was whether Italy would keep within striking distance of their French rivals in the second half.
At first, it didn't seem that way when Michalak landing a long-range penalty.
But when prop Martin Castrogiovanni powered over after another piece of magic from Orquera, the home crowd could sense another upset on the horizon. Even more so when Orquera's conversion put Italy back in front (20-18).
Replacement pivot Kris Burton then ultimately sealed the deal with a well-struck drop-goal that meant France needed to score twice to win. And the rest, as they say, is history.
Man of the match: Italy skipper Sergio Parisse once again led from the front, but fly-half Luciano Orquera ran the show majestically – setting up two tries, kicking a drop-goal, two conversions and a penalty for a personal haul of 13 points.
Moment of the match: Take your pick! All four tries were out of the top drawer, but the final minute of the match left everyone watching this tense spectacle on the edge of their seats.
Villain of the match: Replacement hooker Davide Giazzon may have been given his marching orders, but luckily for him, it didn't prove costly.
Tries: Parisse, Castrogiovanni
Cons: Orquera 2
Drop: Orquera, Burton
Yellow card: Giazzon (79th minute)
Tries: Picamoles, Fall
Pens: Michalak 2
Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi , 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Kristopher Burton, 23 Gonzalo Canale.
France:15 Yoann Huget, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal PapÃ© (c), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
By Dave Morris