Fabien Galthié's side topped Pool A with a 60-7 victory in Lyon
The show goes on for the hosts. France sailed into the quarter-finals after brutally dismissing Italy to top Pool A and set up what will most likely be an enticing quarter-final against reigning champions South Africa.
Before the tournament, this clash between Les Bleus and the Azzurri had all the hallmarks of a tight tussle. France, after all, had only prevailed 29-24 away in Rome in this year’s Six Nations.
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But after Italy had their pants pulled down in unrelenting fashion by New Zealand this time last week, they cut a subdued figure in what proved to be Kieran Crowley’s last game in charge. It was one-way traffic from the moment the increasingly excellent Damian Penaud started orchestrating proceedings.
Penaud bagged the first inside two minutes as France capitalised on an overlap on the left wing before the Bordeaux-Bègles-bound flyer turned provider with an outside-of-the-foot cross-field kick to 20-year-old Louis Bielle-Biarrey.
Thomas Ramos was first to react to a loose ball for a more fortunate third try before Penaud’s new Top 14 team-mate Matthieu Jalibert proved kicking is really his domain by sending another pinpoint punt straight into his hands. That score took Penaud to six for the tournament, clear of the rest of the field.
Although France went in 31-0 up at the break, that didn’t quite tell the full story as Italy prop Simone Ferrari could consider himself unlucky to have had a score from close range ruled out.
In the phases prior to his touchdown, Ferrari – starting at loosehead rather than his usual tighthead – cleared out France scrum-half Maxime Lucu. South African TMO Marius Jonker flagged the collision and eventually the refereeing team, led by Karl Dickson, decided that the impact started at the chest and rose to head, leading them to disallow the score and award the hosts a penalty instead.
France started the second half in similar fine fettle to the first, Jalibert selling a dummy before jinking inside Juan Ignacio Brex to dart over for his side’s fifth try in the 47th minute. Ramos’s reliable boot made it 38-0.
Peato Mauvaka waltzed over untroubled after a maul before Yoram Moefana’s late double put the icing on the gateau. In between the replacement centre’s two tries, Manuel Zuliani’s perseverance earned Italy a consolation in Crowley’s final game in charge before Gonzalo Quesada steps into the breach.