By Alan Dymock
In a nutshell
IT WAS heavily assumed that France, with all their resources and illustrious red-carpet players, would enter Rome and destroy the Azzzurri. However, before the anthems had even finished there was a sense the aristocrats of the Top 14 were in for a nasty surprise.
Not only were France at their most frustrating, engimatic selves, but Italy were so very, very good. Disciplined, aggressive and committed to not giving Philippe Saint-Andre’s men an inch.
The home side were well led by the majestic Sergio Parisse and fly-half, Luciano Orquera, who picked that day to have the game of his life. Martin Castrogiovanni, Quintin Geldenhuys and Leonardo Ghiraldini also slavishly toiled at the ruck-face and Alberto Sgarbi and Andrea Masi scuttled in midfield about filling holes, linking play and generally getting in French faces. It worked a treat.
France did have their bright spots, Louis Picamoles got his try after steamrollering through Parisse, and Benjamin Fall dotted down after finally managing to catch a floated pass from Florian Fritz, but the visitors only flirted with playing with structure on odd occasions. Their scores came from counter attacks, while Italy showed patience and cuteness to earn theirs.
Five minutes into the game Orquera looked up, realised that France did not really fancy it, and bolted into a canter. One pass to the left and Parisse was able to slide between a scrambling French defence and take his try.
It showed calculation few had expected from the Italian marshal, but it also showed the savvy of Parisse. For the rest of the game the pair did exactly what they set out to do, and their team mates got right behind them.
Star man: Luciano Orquera
Despite the unerring work of peerless captain Parisse, Orquera deserved his Man of the Match award. He was able to sit in the pocket behind his ferocious front five and kick to the corners, or even drop a goal. He was afforded time and he thrived.
Of course, not every French player was terrible. Fulgence Ouedraogo relentlessly supported his mates when they bothered to break and he smaashed into contact with a fervour that almost shocked his countrymen into action. Maxime Machenaud also passed with precision and pace that could have been used, if Freddie Michalak ever felt the inclination.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre: “I want to congratulate Italy. They played with a lot of passion.”
Italy’s bear-like tighthead Martin Castrogiovanni: “We can’t start the tournament better than this. We repeated what we did two years ago. We still have another four games and I hope we play like that again. If we do we, can have a chance against any team.”
France beat 15 defenders, but only offloaded seven times. This is because Italy were so tenacious in the tackle that the French simply had no time to play the ball. Saint-Andre saw his side concede 20 turnovers, and against Wales in Paris this will have to be remedied.
It is likely that the pack will be more worried about the 4 lost lineouts within that 20, but, either way, the next week’s training will be tough for any player with a single digit on his back.
Individually, Thierry Dusautoir stands out for his 13 tackles –a number greater than any other player on the park –while Wesley Fofana’s 83 metres made with ball was only bested by the supreme Parisse’s 84 metres.
Tries: Parisse, Castrogiovanni
Cons: Orquera (2) Pens: Orquera Drops: Orquera, Burton
Tries: Picamoles, Fall
Cons: Michalak Pens: Michalak (2)