The winger helps les Bleus to bonus-point 37-10 victory in their Six Nations opener
Gabin Villiere hat-trick as France beat Italy
Vincent Clerc was the last France player to score three tries in the men’s championship, against Ireland in 2008, and Villiere now sits amongst a small group of players who have achieved the feat, which saw him named Player of the Match.
The scoreline may look comfortable for France, but it was far from the one-sided contest many predicted. The conditions didn’t help – the rain teeming down in the first half to limit the scope for clever attacking moves – while a lot of the French players came in short of game time given Covid outbreaks at their clubs so there was a somewhat fractured nature to their play at times.
Still, they scored five tries to see off a dogged Italian side who were actually leading the game after 20 minutes.
Italy’s performance, with their decision-making and determination, suggests they will be more competitive than in last year’s championship, albeit that a victory was still far from their grasp at the Stade de France.
They produced a brilliant moment in the first half when teenager Tommaso Menoncello scored on his Italy debut to give the visitors a surprise lead and become the youngest championship try-scorer since 1967.
Five points from the boot of Paolo Garbisi meant they led 10-8 after half an hour. After that, though, they could not put any more points on the board.
Anthony Jelonch had scored France’s first try when he picked off a Stephen Varney pass to almost stroll over.
Then Villiere got the first of his hat-trick just before the half-time whistle blew. Cameron Woki won a lineout and some classy passing along the back-line created an overlap for the winger to score in the corner.
He crossed for his second in the 49th minute. Garbisi was turned over at a ruck, Antoine Dupont made a half-break, Gregory Alldritt picked up the ball, sprinted clear and offloaded to Villiere, who weaved his way to the line.
Damian Penaud scored the bonus-point try after some neat interplay between Yoram Moefana, Dupont and the winger.
Villiere then wrapped up his hat-trick with the final play of the game. He was involved several times as the ball moved from left to right and back to the left again, where he had the space to dive over in the corner.
So France have the all-important bonus-point victory as they hunt a first Six Nations title since 2010, but they will need to improve if they are to make it two wins from two by beating Ireland next weekend.
The Irish delivered a far slicker, sharper performance when dismantling Wales in their championship opener, both with the physicality of their pack and the fluidity of their attack, and will surely test les Bleus more than Italy did.
It is set to be a sizzling affair in Paris next Saturday evening – and the result is likely to have a significant impact in determining who lifts the trophy this year.
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