France's 35-22 bonus-point victory against Italy puts them top of the Six Nations table
France go top after blowing hot and cold
France made heavy weather of beating Italy but top the Guinness Six Nations table after two rounds following a 35-22 victory in Paris.
Les Bleus scored five tries to three amid the swirling winds of Storm Ciara and never looked in danger of losing the match from the moment wing Teddy Thomas got their first try from a Romain Ntamack grubber kick in the sixth minute. Watch it below…
When Charles Ollivon dotted down from close range to make it 13-0 – his third try of the championship – France were in cruise control and the crowd broke out in a Mexican wave as they contemplated more to come. Two turnover penalties by Julien Marchand, perhaps a world-class hooker in the making, helped maintain France’s tight grip.
However, Ntamack’s errant kicking off the tee meant they failed to pull decisively clear. One of his conversions bounced off the bar and another, from bang in front, only went over after smacking against the inside of both posts.
Matteo Minozzi’s smart finish, converted from the left touchline by Tommaso Allan, who added a penalty soon after, reduced the gap to 13-10 by the half-hour as Italy grew in confidence. For a second week running, their set-piece work looked rock-solid.
The all-round improvements from their first-round drubbing by Wales were stark and it’s all the more commendable because they lost second-row Alessandro Zanni to injury in the warm-up – the sort of disruption that every coach dreads.
Although Antoine Dupont – excellent again at scrum-half – fizzed out a scoring pass for Gregory Alldritt to put France in charge at 23-10 by the break, the second half saw the home side outplayed for long periods.
Where earlier Alldritt and Paul Willemse had been prominent carriers, now the Azzurri replied in kind with some impressive inter-play between backs and forwards. Jake Polledri made a number of dents to go with his 26 tackles.
The aggressive line speed that marked France’s first-half performance all but disappeared and the hosts were grateful to Ntamack for the try just before the hour that secured their try bonus point and stretched the lead to three scores. Watch the try here…
Yet still the job wasn’t done because replacement hooker Federico Zani, on for tireless skipper Luca Bigi, scored against the foot of the posts to keep Italy in the hunt for at least a losing bonus point.
It wasn’t until Baptiste Serin’s solo try, taking a quick tap and winning the race to his grubber, that victory was sealed with seven minutes remaining. Mattia Bellini scored at the death to produce the final margin and ensured Italy deservedly didn’t lose the second 40.
With two rounds gone, only France and Ireland can still win a Grand Slam – check out the table here. Next up for Fabien Galthié’s men is a trip to Cardiff – familiar turf for their defence coach Shaun Edwards.
“In some ways I think Shaun Edwards would rather be going into the Welsh game with this game behind him,” said BBC pundit Paul O’Connell, acknowledging the flat French performance of the second period. “He’ll probably get stuck into them now with a lot of what they were doing and he’ll have them on edge.”
For all their efforts, Italy finished empty-handed again and their record losing run in the championship now stands at 24 matches. Their defeat, coupled with Georgia’s win against Spain, means they have dropped below the East Europeans in the world rankings.
“We brought a performance and showed how strong our attack can be. We scored a try with a driving maul and one in the last minute and we never give up,” said hooker and captain Bigi.
“That is a positive we can bring to the next game and I’m so proud to be part of this team. We conceded too many turnovers last week but we were better today. The effort we showed on the pitch was amazing.”
Anthony Bouthier; Teddy Thomas, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Vincent Rattez (Romain Ntamack 77); Romain Ntamack (Matthieu Jalibert 70), Antoine Dupont (Baptiste Serin 72); Cyril Baille (Jefferson Poirot 58), Julien Marchand (Peato Mauvaka 61), Mohammed Haouas (Demba Bamba 58), Bernard le Roux (Boris Palu 70), Paul Willemse (Romain Taofifénua 44), Francois Cros (Cameron Woki 61), Charles Ollivon (capt), Gregory Alldritt.
Tries (5): Thomas 6, Ollivon 17, Alldritt 38, Ntamack 58, Serin 73. Cons: Ntamack, Jalibert. Pens: Ntamack 2.
Jayden Hayward; Mattia Bellini, Luca Morisi, Carlo Canna, Matteo Minozzi; Tommaso Allan (Giulio Bisegni 75), Callum Braley (Guglielmo Palazzani 61); Andrea Lovotti (Danilo Fischetti 52), Luca Bigi (capt, Federico Zani 61), Giosué Zilocchi (Marco Riccioni 52), Dean Budd (Federico Ruzza 77), Niccolo Cannone, Jake Polledri (Jimmy Tuivaiti 61), Sebastian Negri (Giovanni Licata 52), Abraham Steyn.
Tries (3): Minozzi 24, Zani 65, Bellini 79. Cons: Allan 2. Pen: Allan.
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