Revitalised France nil Italy

Date published: March 15 2015

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Yoann Maestri's first international try helped France to a morale-boosting 29-0 victory over Italy at the Stadio Olimpico.

After an uninspiring first half, les Bleus ground their way into the lead before taking control in the second-half.

And when Maestri went over five minutes after the break, France moved 19-0 ahead to ensure a second win over the Championship after successive losses, with Mathieu Bastareaud adding the finishing touches with a last-second try.

On the day that Sergio Parisse became Italy's all-time most capped player, it was a wretched afternoon for the Azzurri, who failed to make the most of their early dominance before being completely overwhelmed from the 20 minutes onwards.

Instead it was Thierry Dusautoir, captaining France for the 50th time, who enjoyed a win in Rome, after consecutive losses in 2011 and 2013.

Italy had all the ball in the opening minutes but the first real danger came from a high ball collected by Noa Nakaitaci. On debut, the winger sprinted 50 metres but couldn't get past Parisse, with the Italy skipper using the touchline to his advantage.

Still, the visitors were struggling to get any ball, and Italy should have gone in front on eight minutes when Bernard le Roux was penalised at a ruck. Tommaso Allan, a late replacement for Kelly Haimona, was off-target with a relatively simple shot at goal.

Allan was clearly struggling with a groin injury, and soon had to leave his team-mates, with Luciano Orquera taking his place. However the Zebre fly-half had no more luck than his predecessor, hitting the post with his first shot at goal as Italy failed to take advantage of their early dominance.

France barely touched the ball in the opening quarter, but earned a first penalty at a scrum, however Scott Spedding was off-target from 45 metres out.

The quality was fairly limited but Italy had their first semblance of a chance when Edoardo Gori dived onto a loose ball in midfield. However after Samuela Vunisa had arrived in support his pass to Giovanbattista Venditti was forward. Again Italy threatened, this time Andrea Masi was the guilty party with a knock-on when there was a big overlap.

Just before the half-hour, Vunisa collected a knock-on from Leonardo Ghiraldini, handing Camille Lopez a shot at goal from 40 metres out. Having endured a really poor start to the game, Lopez made no mistake and gave France an unlikely 3-0 lead.

The conditions were poor, but that still didn't fully explain the number of handling errors and poor passes that made attacking play difficult.

But while it was France who had been heavily penalised in the early stages, that trend was reversed in the lead-up to half-time, with Francesco Minto pinged for coming in at the side at a ruck. From 40 metres out, Lopez found the target, to give France a 6-0 advantage.

That seemed to liberate the French a little, and after one monumental rolling maul, Lopez almost scored a sensational solo try. He slalomed through a number of tackles, but with the cover defence in place, his final pass didn't go to hand.

Italy were suffering on the injury front, with Matias Aguero and Luca Morisi joining Allan in coming off before the break. And the momentum seemed to be turning, with the game now being played almost exclusively in Italian territory, although France were not much more effective with ball in hand.

They did have the edge in the scrum though, with Nicolas Mas impressing on his return to the team. A penalty on the stroke of half-time gave them the chance to stretch the lead to nine points, with Spedding resuming kicking duties as Lopez needed treatment on his ankle. The full-back made no mistake and France led 9-0 at the break.

The ankle problem turned out to be too much for Lopez to carry on, and he was replaced by Jules Plisson at the break. The second half started with France again on the front foot, and Plisson knocked over an early penalty to settle his nerves.

And after 45 minutes France got the first try of the game thanks to some great ambition from Spedding. The Bayonne full-back chose to run back a loose kick, before finding Loann Goujon inside him. The support play was good and Guilhem Guirado popped up to keep the move alive. He seemed to be caught high but the ball was quickly released and Yoann Huget played the overlap well to send Maestri over in the corner. Plisson slotted the conversion and all of a sudden France led 19-0.

France looked a team transformed with a little confidence, and the introduction of Rabah Slimani and Benjamin Kayser made a difference in the scrum as les Bleus produced a massive effort to march the Italian eight back 15 metres before being penalised.

Just before the hour Italy conceded another penalty, with Plisson continuing his fine afternoon with the boot to stretch the lead even further.

While France had clearly bucked up their ideas, all wasn't clicking, with Kayser missing his jumper a couple of minutes later when France had a great lineout just five metres out.

Still, they were defending well and Italy had no response, with the French finishing the game on the front foot and there was time for Bastareaud to power under the posts with the final act.

It was far from perfect, and the first 20 minutes were desperately poor, however with a little confidence France certainly looked a far more capable team. Whether they can maintain that next week against England remains to be seen.

Man of the match: A lot of questions were asked over Loann Goujon's place in the starting line-up, having not made a start at number eight for La Rochelle since October. The 25-year-old really showed up though, providing a big ball-carrying presence and winning his battle with Sergio Parisse.

Moment of the match: It has to be Yoann Maestri's try. A great counter from Scott Spedding with good support from Loann Goujon got them going before Yoann Huget released Maestri for the score.

Villain of the match: No nasty stuff to report.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: Maestri, Bastareaud
Cons: Plisson 2
Pens: Lopez 2, Spedding, Plisson 2

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Luca Morisi, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Giovambattista Venditti, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse, 7 Samuela Vunisa, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Dario Chistolini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Matias Aguero.
Replacements: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Alberto De Marchi, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Barbini, 20 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Enrico Bacchin.

France: 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Sébastian Tillous-Borde, 8 Loann Goujon, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Alexandre Flanquart, 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Rabah Slimani, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Rory Kockott, 22 Jules Plisson, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud

Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome 
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Simon McDowell (Ireland)

 

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