French blitzkrieg kills off Azzurri
France stayed in touch with run-away Six Nations leaders Ireland when they demolished Italy 30-10 in a scrappy and spiteful game.
France stayed in touch with run-away Six Nations leaders Ireland when they demolished Italy 30-10 in a scrappy and spiteful game at Stade de France, in Paris, on Sunday.
The game finished with two players red-carded, after one of several flare-ups, and another yellow carded - leaving France with just 13 men on the field at one stage.
It was the best of games; it was the worst of games.
The best came in the first 12 minutes of the second half; the worst in the last 12 minutes, though the condition of the field lasted the whole game.
It is astonishing that in 2014 the Northern Hemisphere is willing to play these wonderful, expensive matches on substandard surfaces - in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Paris.
In those last 12 minutes we had two teams representing great countries in a famous competition, but with 14 playing against 13.
First Sébastien Vaha'amahina of New Caledonia via Perpignan was sent to the sin bin for kicking the ball away after he had been penalised. He was on the field three minutes when he was penalised at a tackle. He exacerbated his offence by kicking the ball away and was sent off.
Italy opted for a five-metre scrum instead of the penalty which had been marched on 10 metres for Va'amahina's action. The scrum stood up and two replacement props got it all wrong.
After consultation with the assistant referee and the TMO, Michele Rizzo was found guilty of headbutting Rabah Slimani and Slimani was found guilty of headbutting Rizzo, who appeared to deliver two body blows to Slimani. Both were sent off and Italy penalised because Rizzo had started the inglorious fracas.
The best bit came with the start of the second half when France suddenly upped the tempo and scored 21 points in nine minutes.
Italy then dominated the second half. For them Josh Furno and Tobie Botes came within a centimetre or two of scoring and Tommaso Iannone did score. It could have been three tries all at the end and perhaps the 30-10 scoreline flattered France.
Poor kicking at goal characterised much of the first half. In the first six minutes Jean-Marc Doussain missed two relatively easy penalty kicks at goal and Jules Plisson was childishly wide from a drop straight in front. Gonzalo Garcia of Italy missed two long-range kicks and Tommy Allan an easy one. But France ended the half leading 9-3 after Doussain kicked three in a row - all at tackles - and Allan had levelled levelled the score when Brice Dulin was penalised at a tackle in front of his posts. This latter came after a great 20-metre burst by prop Alberto Di Marchi who had three great runs in the match.
The best bits of the half were a burst by Dimitri Szarzewski that sent Pascal Papé close to the line, a five-metre scrum to France which Italy destroyed to win a penalty and a tap and run by Dulin from a mark.
The second half started with a new French approach. They lifted the tempo and were focussed. After being penalised twice and free-kicked once in four scrums in the first half, they won a penalty in the second half. They formed a line-out from the penalty and formed a maul. Louis Picamoles broke away from the maul and although tacked by Leonardo Sarto was able to stretch and score the try which Doussain converted from far out.
France were alive and scored again two minutes later. They went right to burly Mathieu Bastareaud who was brought down by two Italians. the outside centre laid the ball back and Wesley Fofana swooped on it and race around the outside of the tackle. In his run of some 50 metres he first beat Iannone and then Luke McLean who seemed to have him tackled but Fofana forced himself away for a try. Again Doussain's conversion was accurate. 23-3 and the crowd was singing the Marseillaise with heads back and mouths open wide.
Italy got onto the attack and won a turnover. They moved into the 22 and in a cluttered situation Mauro Bergamasco passed to his left. Wesley Fofana intercepted with a juggle and raced downfield. when the Italian cover defence closed in he passed to Yoann Huget on his left. He had a clear run to the line but with great speed and determination Sarto caught him from behind. Falling Huget got a pass inside to debutant Hugo Bonneval who scored Again Doussain converted. 30-3 after 52 minutes.
With this winning lead France settled for defence inside their own half. Italy, playing catch-up, resorted to scrums and line-outs instead of penalties. A penalty gave them a five-metre line-out and first Di Marchi and then his hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini were close but Italy were penalised.
Luciano Orquera replaced Allan and immediately lifted the tempo. Unfortunately he did too much on his own and once neglected a double overlap. But Sarto had a darting run and Luke McLean was close. Italy got the ball out wide to Josh Furno, who was Italy's best ,line-out man, out on the left wing. He looked about to score but a brave tackle by Huget dislodged the ball as Furno plunged for the left corner.
Italy had been attacking for a long time, driving a maul forward till Sergio Parisse pulled out and Botes lobbed a perfect pass to Iannone on the left wing and with some deft stepping the 23-year-old scored far out. From far out Orquera converted. 30-10 with four minutes to play.
Man of the Match: From France there was Brice Dulin who was always alive to attacking options and in the pack Yannick Nyanga and Louis Picamoles. For Italy there were Sergio Parisse, Luke McLean and Leonardo Ghiraldini but our choice is France's inside centre Wesley Fofana for the way he could take any scrap of a chance.
Moment of the Match: Hugo Bonneval's try and the part played by Wesley Fofana and Yoann Huget.
Villains of the Match: Michele Rizzo, Rabah Slimani and the ground.
Tries: Picamoles, Fofana, Bonneval
Cons: Doussain 3
Pens: Doussain 3
Yellow card: Sébastien Vaha'amahina (France, 69 - professional foul, kicking the ball away)
Red cards: Michele Rizzo (Italy, 71 - foul play, head-butting and punching), Rabah Slimani (France, 71 - foul play, head-butting)
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Hugo Bonneval, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Yannick Forrestier, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Sébastien Vaha'amahina, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Gaël Fickou.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tommaso Iannone, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martín Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Alessandro Zanni, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Angelo Esposito .
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)