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Fourteen-man Italy shock France

Sun, 03 Feb 2013 15:31
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The Azzurri fully deserved their win

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Italy claimed a famous victory when they stunned a much fancied France 23-18 in the final first-round Six Nations clash in Rome on Sunday.

Isn't rugby wonderful? Isn't it exciting?

Watch that game at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome and marvel.

The sheer unpredictability of it, the reward for enthusiasm and team spirit, the great unseated, the wealthy brought to earth, the underdog barking louder - all that sort of things full in the panting heart of Rome as heroes dating back to Horatius find life again, and how their people cheered, their cheers echoing around the Seven Hills. "Even the ranks of Tuscany could scarce forbear to cheer." All of Rome would have known of this famous victory.

I'Italia s'è desta, their anthem sings. Italy has awoken. The anthem asks Dov'è la vittoria? - Where is victory? The answer echoed around the rugby world. The victory was in Rome on a Sunday afternoon.

There were some 65 000 spectators in the 82 000-seater as the teams, soccer style, came up from underground. Then they stood and sang two of the greatest anthems, the Marseillaise and Fratelli d'Italia - and how they sang them.

During the Italian anthem a crowd of former Italian internationals stood wearing blue caps, singing with pride. Imagine their pride at the end of the match.

This year's Six Nations has had a magnificent start with three fine matches, none more thrilling than Sunday's in Rome as France suddenly found a burst of energy and tried to win - too late and five points too little.

The Azzurri, playing in white, fully deserved their win, partly because they played much better as a team. They handled better, they offloaded much better, they were better organised and they made fewer errors.

They just looked the side with greater intent. After 20 minutes Italy led 13-5 and with 20 minutes to go they took a 20-18 lead. Those 40 minutes were vital - and so were the 40 in between.

And France? French flair? Flair Français est mort - that is the message of Sunday's match as, sadly, it is the message of so much Top 14 rugby. French flair is dead. Perhaps not so. Perhaps this is an aberration and Wales had better beware.

France started making errors. Frédéric Michalak had not played a Six Nations match since 2006, and he had a ghastly start. He kicked off and he kicked directly into touch. His next kick was high to the left. Luke McLean got the ball, in his 22 and started a counterattack. He raced down the right, Italy kept it going and the ball went left. Slender Luciano Orquera cut on a diagonal between Pascal Papé and Nicolas Mas and there was Sergio Parisse with an overlap. The great Italian strode over, not needing Tommaso Benvenuti on his left. Orquera converted, 7-0 after four minutes.

A penalty gave France an attacking line-out but Parisse beat them to the jump. They won another line-out and Michalak kicked a high diagonal which nearly paid off on the left. But from the next line-out they came right and bashed. Florian Fritz was close. They went back left and Louis Picamoles powered his way through Parisse and Andrea Masi to score. Michalak missed the conversion, 7-5 after 12 minutes.

Italy were best when they kept ball in hand, as Benjamin Fall's try would tell them. They went through phases with snappy passing from the base of tackle/rucks by Tobias Botes, but when the phases slowed Orquera kicked a lofty drop, 10-5 after 14 minutes, which became 13-5 four minutes later when Maxime Mermoz went offside.

The half in fact had few penalties - three against Italy and two against France.

France came close to scoring  when they broke from a maul on the left and then went right where Yoann Huget went over in a mass of players, but the try could not be detected. Still, Michalak goaled a penalty,13-8 after 28 minutes… and then came a splendid try.

Botes kicked a meaningless kick down the middle of the field, just into France's half. France countered and Huget had a dash down the right. He played inside to Fritz who gave immediately to left wing Fall who raced over for a try at the posts. That gave France a 15-13 lead at half-time.

Andrea Lo Cicero, playing his 99th match, was penalised at a scrum and Michalak extended the lead to 18-13. The expected seemed to be happening but then came a massive turn of events.

French scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud had a searing break and a try looked imminent but he went just too far and lost the ball inside the Italian 22. Italy seized the advantage and the next thing Parisse was racing down the left. He had support on either side but threw a dummy and was tackled. Italy kept possession and went wide right, bashing at the French line. Orquera got the ball at the bash-site, wormed his way millimetres forward and popped a pass to Martin Castrogiovanni and the massive, hirsute prop plunged over for a try. Orquera converted and Italy led 20-18.

Pascal Papé was helped off injured and France looked rattled. Their structures collapsed. They brought on Mathieu Bastareaud for Fritz and Morgan Parra for Machenaud.

Italy made what seemed a strange substitution, bringing on Kristopher Burton for their star Orquera, but soon afterwards Burton did an Orquera, dropping a goal, 23-18 with 12 minutes to play. A penalty would now not win it for France in a half when the penalty count was 8-1 in their favour.

In the last 10 minutes France attacked but lost the ball and Giovanbattista Venditti broke out, suggesting that Italy could score again.

France won a turnover and attacked. Davide Giazzon was penalised and sent to the sin bin. The penalty was near the posts and some 10 metres from the Italian line. France opted for a scrum. The scrum was untidy and the ball squired out to Italy, but the referee penalised Italy. France opted for another scrum which the referee pronounced was the 'last play of the match'.

France flung themselves at the Italians - twice Bastareaud and Thierry Dusautoir as the Italians tackled with determination. France went wide left but several Italians headed for Fall and tackled him into touch.

The final whistle went and fiesta broke out in the northern part of Rome, spreading rapidly.

Man of the Match: Yoann Huget and Louis Picamoles were the pick of the French but several Italians deserved the honour - captain Sergio Parisse, Alessandro Zanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini and his props, but our choice is Luciano Orquera, who had a big hand in two tries, kicked 10 vital points and was the general.

Moment of the Match: Martin Castrogiovanni's try for its build-up and its significance.

Villain of the Match: Nobody.

The scorers:

For Italy:
Tries:
Parisse, Castrogiovanni
Cons: Orquera 2
Pens: Orquera
DG: Orquera, Burton

For France:
Tries:
Picamoles, Fall
Cons: Michalak
Pens: Michalak 2

Yellow card: Davide Giazzon (Italy, 79)

Teams:

Italy:
15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 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 Thierry Dusautoir, 6 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Pape (captain), 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)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Leighton Hodges (Wales)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)

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