France won against Italy in Paris, but they will have to be 20 points better than Wales in Cardiff to win the Six Nations.
The French were ordinary in beating an equally average Italian side 25-13, but the victory at least gives them an outside chance of retaining the championship.
To beat the resurgent Welsh in Cardiff by 20 points seems beyond the French, but if any team in world rugby can achieve this it’s the temperamental French.
The French inconsistency in team selections meant the new combinations didn’t work resulting in many errors but at the same time both teams played very exciting end-to-end rugby. The French set-piece struggled throughout, missing their jumpers in a number of line-outs while the Italian scrum dominated – at times they walked with the French seven or eight meters. It doesn’t matter who France pick if they don’t have a solid tight five the rest of the players will not be able to fire at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Both sides missed early try-scoring chances – the French when they took a quick-tap off a penalty right in-front of the posts and knocked it on. Italian centre Gonzalo Canale also dropped the final pass of what would have been a great try, where the ball was spread from side to side of the field from a number of phases after hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini made a brilliant break down the touchline.
France’s first try came from good forward drive from a line-out, French flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc received the ball on the 22 and put a well-weighted cross-kick that was collected in the air by wing Julien Malzieu who flipped a basketball-pass back inside to fullback Anthony Floch. This was just one example of the variety in France’s play which they did not show in their previous loss to England.
Italian fullback Andrea Marcato kept his side in touch with two penalties, while French scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili kicked two for his team.
Centre Yannick Jauzion scored the French second try after another good chip over the top, this time from Yachvili. But Italy would just not go away and they were rewarded for their forward dominance when prop Martin Castrogiovanni scored from a surging maul to bring them within five points of the French.
Jauzion made another good break and off-loaded to winger Aurelien Rougerie who scored the try that sealed the win.
France will have to sort out a number of aspects of their play by next week, and hopefully will be consistent in their selection.
Italy are still in search of their first win in this year’s competition and will be positive after another encouraging display. They have their best chance when they face Scotland in Rome on Saturday.
France – tries: Floch, Jauzion, Rougerie. conversions: Yachvili. penalties:Yachvili 2
Italy – tries: Castrogiovanni. conversions: Marcato. penalties: Marcato 2
By Grant Ball