What was hot and what was not from the 2015 World Cup game between France and Italy
France kicked off their World Cup campaign with a comfortable win over Italy at Twickenham, where they used the boot of Frederic Michalak to drum up a comfortable 15-3 lead at the break before Rabah Slimani and Nicolas Mas crossed the whitewash in the second-half to give the score some sheen. Italy had brief periods of possession in dangerous territory but they were largely outclassed and outmuscled, with the only cheer for their passionate fans, a try from wing Venditti.
From the Marseillaise being sung on the approach to Twickenham, to “Il Canto degli Italiani” being belted out by Italians outside the West Gate, there was a convivial, uplifting feel to pre-match events. Hell, there was even a clutch of bagpipers, no doubt protesting against their draconian ban from stadiums, but it felt different, festival-like. It was wholly refreshing and one hopes the host country will embrace this already wonderful tournament well beyond its normal rugby environs.
The French pack
Italy have a reputation for being uncompromising up front but it was the French eight that allowed Michalak an armchair ride in which to direct operations. In Eddy Ben Arous, Guilhem Guirado and Rabah Slimani, they not only have a trio who are competent in the set-piece but also shine in the loose, Guirado’s power-fend thundering down on the Italian line was a joy to behold. That they have the enormous Vincent Debaty and grizzled Nicolas Mas to come off the bench can’t hurt either. In the backrow, Louis Picamoles has played some of his best rugby in recent weeks and again he was rampant in the loose, skittling Italian defenders and offloading at will. They will take some stopping.
Yes, he’s been maligned in his career – sometimes deservedly so – but we’ll miss him when he’s gone. Freddie had a considered game for France, pulling the strings, throwing flat – heart stopping – passes, chuntering around and generally playing in that nonchalant fashion we’ve come to expect. Knocking over seven out of nine kicks was also to his credit. He was certainly given a warm applause as he left the field. In what is his last World Cup, we can safely say it’s been an enjoyable ride. Merci Fred.
Making your mind up
In the 14th minute, after concerted French pressure, Louis Picamoles tried a miracle offload around Leonardo Sarto to Noa Nakaitaci. It rebounded off Sarto’s backside into Nakaitaci’s hands and after lengthy deliberation with TMO Shaun Veldsman – the same TMO operating during the England v Fiji game – a try was given. When a further replay showed on the big screen, Nakaitaci was seen to lose control of the ball during grounding to loud boos from the crowd, similar to last night’s Matawalu try. Cue, more confusion and the try then being disallowed. Either give it or don’t give it!
While Italy play with heart, there is a worrying lack of quality in their ranks without the talismanic Sergio Parisse. For all the endeavour shown by the likes of Ghiraldhini and Zanni in the pack they were bullied up front – once such a source of strength for the Azurri and that will concern them. In the last six months they have been thrashed by Wales, Scotland and now France. Way out at No 15 in the world rankings, Jacques Brunel’s four-year tenure looks to be going out with a whimper.
No one likes to see players of real quality being helped from the field in genuine discomfort, but rugby is a rough old game. In the 10th minute Andrea Masi, the classy Italy and Wasps centre went off on a stretcher with a suspected Achilles injury, and after the break, Yoann Huget, the jet-heeled Toulouse wing went down in agony out on the flank. He too was helped off the field. Huget is a controversial wing, with a poor disciplinary record but his star-quality is unquestioned and if he is ruled out, he will be a loss to the tournament. Speedy recovery to both.
France carried the ball 490 metres to Italy’s 267 metres
Italy had 57 per cent of the territory, compared to France who had 43 per cent
France beat 23 defenders to Italy’s 14
Scott Spedding carried the ball furthest, with 128 metres run, Picamoles and Nakaitaci had 67 and 66 metres respectively
Thierry Dusautoir was the game’s highest tackler with 12
France: S Spedding, Y Huget (G Fickou 55), M Bastareaud, A Dumoulin, N Nakaitaci, F Michalak (R Tales 75), S Tillous Borde (M Parra 60); E Ben Arous (V Debaty 60), G Guirado (B Keyser 60), R Slimani (N Mas 60), P Pape, Y Maestri (A Flanquart 68), T Dusautoir, D Chouly, L Picamoles (B Le Roux 65)
Tries: Rabah Slimani (43), Nicolas Mas (68)
Pens: Frederic Michalak (5), Scott Spedding (1)
Cons: Frederic Michalak (2)
Italy: L McLean, L Sarto, M Campagnaro, A Masi (E Bacchin 10), G Venditti, T Allan (,C Canna 72), E Gori (G Palazzani 71); M Aguero, L Ghiraldhini (A Manici 62), M Castrogiovanni (L Cittadini 49), Q Geldenhuys, J Furno (V Bernabo 71), A Zanni, F Minto (S Favaro 60), S Vunisa
Reps: M Rizzo (unused)
Tries: Giovanbattista Venditti
Pens: Allan (1)
Cons: Allan (1)
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Man of the Match: Louis Picamoles