France’s stuttering Six Nations campaign continued on Saturday when they beat a gutsy Italian side 37-12 in Paris, after trailing 8-12 at the break.
Having lost to Scotland in the opening round and withstood a late fightback by Ireland in Paris two weeks ago, the French were desperate for a convincing performance against the fast-improving minnows.
However, three penalties and a drop goal from flyhalf Romiro Pez gave Italy a surprise 12-8 lead at half-time. Only a try from No 8 Thomas Lievremont, following a cross kick from scrumhalf Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, gave the 80 000 Stade de France crowd something to shout about.
Fortunately for the pre-tournament favourites, they got their act together in the second half and scored another four tries, two of which came in the final three minutes.
On the 55-minute mark, French fullback Thomas Castaignede counter-attacked from the halfway line, sliced through the Italian defence and offloaded to flank Yannick Nyanga who grabbed the much-needed five points.
French pressure again paid off again 10 minutes later when prop Pieter de Villiers was driven over for the try that gave the home side some breathing space.
Tries from winger Aurelien Rougerie and flyhalf Frederic Michalak, just before fulltime, made it 37-12 – a scoreline that flattered the home side.
France – Tries: Thomas Lievremont, Yannick Nyanga, Pieter de Villiers, Aurelien Rougerie, Frederic Michalak. Conversions: Dimitri Yachvili (3). Penalties: Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, Yachvili.
Italy – Penalties: Romiro Pez (3). Drop goal: Pez.