France v Italy: Five takeaways as Jonathan Danty costs Les Bleus while Azzurri’s heroics fall short of historic win

David Skippers
France's Maxime Lucu wipes his face during the Six Nations rugby union international between France and Italy at the Pierre Mauroy and Jonathan Danty.

France's Maxime Lucu wipes his face during the Six Nations rugby union international between France and Italy at the Pierre Mauroy and Jonathan Danty.

Following an entertaining 13-13 draw between France and Italy, here are our five takeaways from the Six Nations showdown at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy in Lille on Sunday.

The top line

From the outset, there was a real sense of purpose from Les Bleus, and they started this fixture with plenty of passion and fervour.

Judging from the way the players and spectators belted out their national anthem – La Marseillaise – Italy were in for a huge hiding, and when Charles Ollivon crashed over for the opening try in the seventh minute, that was certainly on the cards.

From there on, it was all France as they were camped in Italy’s half of the field for most of the opening period, but things did not go their way as they could not breach the visitors’ defence.

However, a combination of factors meant things did not go according to plan for Les Bleus, and they battled to convert their dominance into points.

Firstly, the Azzurri were solid in the contact areas and seemed to grow an arm and a leg on defence – more on that later – as the match progressed. That led to panic in the French ranks, and their plans went further awry when they lost Matthieu Jalibert to injury and Jonathan Danty to ill-discipline.

With a one-man advantage, Italy’s confidence grew, and they turned the tables after the interval as they took control of proceedings. France led 10-3 at half-time, and Italy won the second half by the same margin but should really have won the game, but Paolo Garbisi’s penalty attempt struck an upright, and Les Bleus were happy to settle for the draw in the end.

Italy’s heroic defensive effort

In the build-up to this encounter, we highlighted the importance of defence for both teams – especially the Azzurri, as that aspect of their game has been a big contributing factor to their woeful record in the Championship over the years.

However, Italy certainly came to the party in that facet of play, especially during the opening half when they were under the cosh inside their own half for most of the time, with France having the bulk of the possession and also holding the upper hand in the territorial stakes.

Although the home side dominated, the Azzurri really put their bodies on the line during the opening period and restricted their hosts to just one try – from their captain, Ollivon – and that was scored early on.

Despite the French launching wave after wave of attacks, the Azzurri’s defence held firm, and they were still in the game at half-time with their opponents holding a slender lead.

Danty’s red card proved to be a real leveller as Italy took the fight to their hosts when they realised they would be playing an entire half with a numerical advantage.

While they improved on attack and were rewarded with a fine try from Ange Capuozzo, the Italians still held their defensive shape for the rest of the match as France were still launching attacks despite playing with 14 men.

In the end, Italy made 179 tackles to France’s 117, with captain Michele Lamaro and back-row partner Ross Vintcent leading the way with 18 hits apiece.

Jonathan Danty’s red card a game-changer

Although the Azzurri deserve plenty of credit for coming to the fore with a splendid all-round performance, we cannot ignore the big talking point in the game – Danty’s red card and the impact it had on the end result.

While Italy did well to still be in the game and the interval and restrict Les Bleus to just one try, France were still favourites to win the game, and they were more than likely going to do just that before Danty received his marching orders.

The inside centre was initially yellow carded, but that was upgraded to red after the offence was reviewed by the Foul Play Review Bunker. The 31-year-old can have little qualms over the red card as his hit on Juan Ignacio Brex was careless and there was no mitigation, with Danty making no attempt to drop in the tackle, which would have avoided the clash of heads, which resulted in him being red carded.

Danty’s offence is unfortunately not an isolated one, as his discipline has let him down badly over the past six months. Apart from being sent off against Italy, he was also red-carded while on duty for La Rochelle in a Top 14 game against Stade Francais in December.

Adding to that, he was also yellow carded in Champions Cup games against Leinster and Leicester Tigers, respectively, in December and January, and he received four yellow cards during the 2022/23 season.

WATCH: A red card in the history of the Six Nations – Jonathan Danty becomes the 20th player to be red carded

France rolling the dice backfired

In a very bold move around the 48th minute, Fabien Galthie ran the changes for his Les Bleus side with scrum-half Maxime Lucu and forwards Cameron Woki and Posolo Tuilagi along with the entire front-row substituted.

This came after Danty’s yellow card was upgraded to red, and clearly, the coach felt he needed to make a change to help his side keep their 13-3 lead at the time.

However, the changes did not exactly work as planned. At scrum-half, Lucu had an average first half as he attempted to fill the massive boots of Antoine Dupont, but Racing 92 star Nolann La Garrec started poorly with a kick out on the full as one of his first touches.

Romain Taofifenua made a key steal but that was it really from the forward substitutes. Otherwise, the replacement front-row struggled at scrum time against the Italians.

The brave decision was one that could be a masterclass or a disaster class and this time round it certainly did not change the game in Les Bleus’ favour.

Posolo Tuilagi lives up to the hype

Posolo Tuilagi has to be the most promising teenager in rugby right now, and he is already living up to the hype after a sensational first start for Les Bleus. If not, we would love to know who is. There is plenty of weight that comes with the Tuilagi name, and he carries it effortlessly. He is primed to be one of the all-time greats if he continues with his current trajectory.

When a young player gets an opportunity at Test level, the general consensus is that they have a few rough edges that need smoothing out to become a regular but that is not the case with Tuilagi at the moment. He can certainly improve from this point and is not the finished product, but as far as meeting the requirements of an international lock, he is ticking most – if not all – the boxes.

France have also used his imposing frame to good use, and while that usually means that they have him steaming into smaller backline players or the defensive line in general, that was not always the case today.

He drew in several Italian players and simply played the ball out the back to a playmaker and shifted the point of attack, and it worked superbly, with Jalibert making a stunning break in one case. The big lad is also superb at the breakdown, a challenging thing for his size, and is just as effective as breaking up mauls.

Make no mistake, he doesn’t lack when it comes to the big carries, as we saw time and time again and once he does break through the tackles, he is capable of getting an offload away – case and point the one to Ollivon in the first half.

He is a superstar in the making, or perhaps is one already, and is the kind of player no one has to tell you to keep an eye on because it will be bloody difficult to miss him.

READ MORE: Italy fall agonisingly short of historic win as 14-man France hold on for a draw after Jonathan Danty red card