France win but at a cost

Date published: September 19 2015

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France comfortably saw off Italy 32-10 in their Rugby World Cup Pool D encounter at Twickenham on Saturday, but lost winger Yoann Huget to a knee injury.

The Toulouse winger went down clutching his knee 15 minutes into the second half, and judging by his tears on the sidelines, his tournament is surely over.

The rest of the French squad looked to have been affected by the injury, but on the pitch they were too good for Italy, if not entirely convincing.

Two tighthead props, Rabah Slimani and Nicolas Mas, crossed for les Bleus, while their reunion with Craig Joubert was a happier one than four years ago in Auckland.

The South African referee had a busy night on the whistle, and Frédéric Michalak took advantage to kick 15 points, with Italy struggling to turn the possession they had into points and managing just one try, through Giovanbattista Venditti.

In the context of the tournament, France are now on course for a pool decider with Ireland, while Italy on this form should provide little resistance to Joe Schmidt's men.

However the loss of Huget will be a massive blow, with limited options to replace him, but Philippe Saint-André will have been pleased to see Man of the Match Louis Picamoles again outstanding.

The set-piece battle was always going to be key, and France drew first blood as they earned a penalty in the third minute, however Michalak's attempt came back off the left post.

He was given a second attempt two minutes later when Italy failed to release in a tackle, this time splitting the uprights to hand France an early 3-0 lead.

France then looked to have scored the first try after ten minutes, only for the delayed TMO to strike once more. Having checked to see whether Picamoles had knocked on when offloading for Noa Nakaitaci to score, France were awarded a try, but as Michalak prepared to take the conversion, a knock-on from the winger appeared on the big screen, with the score ruled out and les Bleus having to settle for a penalty in front of the sticks instead.

Italy had their first real period of possession after about quarter of an hour, but following a nice break from Leonardo Ghiraldini in midfield, Tommaso Allan pulled his penalty attempt wide.

While Italy were enjoying some possession, their scrum remained under the cosh, with Slimani getting the better of Matias Aguero to give Michalak another shot at goal, but for the second time his effort came back off the woodwork, with Huget unable to gather as he chased.

The tries weren't coming, but Michalak slotted a third penalty after some good carrying from Picamoles and Mathieu Bastareaud had set France up in good position.

Italy finally got on the board just after the half-hour, with Sébastien Tillous-Borde stupidly penalised for kicking the ball out of the hands of Edoardo Gori. Allan made no mistake from almost the same position as he missed his first.

The end of the half belonged to France however, with Scott Spedding nailing a long-range penalty from inside his own half before Michalak made it 15-3 at the break on the stroke of half-time.

The start of the second half followed a familiar pattern, with Italy charged down almost from the kick-off and despite recovering, giving away a penalty to allow Michalak to stretch the lead to 15 points.

And two minutes later les Bleus had the opening try, and in fine style. After a mazy run down the left from Nakaitaci, Guilhem Guirado was hauled down just short of the line. The chance looked to have gone when Italy sprinted up offside, but France kept their cool, and Michalak's delightful grubber was perfect for Slimani to score his first Test try. Michalak converted and France led 25-3.

That appeared to spark Italy into life and they almost scored in bizarre circumstances through Gori. After France had turned the ball over at a ruck close to their line, it squirted loose, and when Yoann Maestri failed to gather, the scrum-half thought he had touched down over the line, however he was deemed to have knocked on.

Still, Italy didn't have to wait long for their first try, coming straight back into the French 22. While the defence held initially, the Azzurri eventually worked up some numbers out wide, and a wide pass to Venditti alloewd him to scuttle over untouched. Allan added the extras.

France then came back and created an opportunity out wide. Rather than score they lost Huget with the French winger in tears on the sidelines after leaving the pitch.

The game was getting quite fractious, with pushing and shoving after every blow of the whistle, killing the rhythm of the match.

Les Bleus did cross a second time with ten minutes to go, as Mas showed all his experience to dot down against the foot of the post after a period of French possession in the Italian 22. 

And although Italy tried to come back, there was no way through the French defence, les Bleus holding out for a comfortable win.

Man of the match: It's great to see Louis Picamoles back to his best, and he was comfortably the best player on the pitch. One powerful run where he crashed through one man before stepping another really stood out.

Moment of the match: Sadly it was the sight of Huget crumpled in a heap after trying to step past Luke McLean. He will be a big loss for les Bleus.

Villain of the match: It was a niggly evening but nothing too nasty to report.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries:
Slimani, Mas
Cons: Michalak 2
Pens: Michalak 5, Spedding

For Italy:
Try:
Venditti
Con: Allan
Pen: Allan

The teams:

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Alexandre Flanquart, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Gaël Fickou.

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Samuela Vunisa, 7 Francesco Minto, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Simone Favaro, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Enrico Bacchin

Venue: Twickenham Stadium, London
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Television match official: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)

By Paul Eddison at Twickenham

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