France edged towards the Six Nations title with a six-try 46-20 demolition of Italy in Paris.
France face England at Stade de France next week and only a severe loss coupled with Ireland comprehensively beating Scotland to overturn the significant points difference (Ireland’s is +14 while France’s is 64) will see the Irish retaining the trophy.
Nick Mallett’s men had only conceded three tries in their previous three matches, but after 26 minutes the French had already matched that as they crossed their line thrice. The hosts never allowed the Azzurri to settle, the fast tempo too much for the Italians as they slipped off many first-time tackles.
Scrumhalf Morgan Parra and fullback Clement Poitrenaud were also influential. Parra swooped around the side of a ruck and offloaded to supporting No 8 Imanol Harinordoquy, who dived over under the poles as they held a 7-0 lead after as many minutes.
Parra added a penalty, and after a quarter of an hour matters only got worse for the visitors as centre Gonzalo Garcia was yellow carded after a brilliant counter-attack from Poitrenaud. Garcia cynically late tackled wing Marc Andreu and referee Allan Lewis had no option but to send Garcia off.
No 13 David Marty took full advantage of the man short in the midfield, as he ghosted through a gaping hole for his side’s second.
Poitrenaud again turned provider as he punished any errant Italian kick as he counter-attacked brilliant from deep. Harinorduquy was also influential, and he offloaded to Marty as the French went into a 22-0 lead after 26 minutes with Garcia’s infringement costing his side 12 points.
Harinorduquy was also prominent in defence, and any time Italy had attacking positions, the French eighthman would invariably steal their ball at the lineout.
The Italians finally got onto the scoreboard via two Mirco Bergamasco penalties either side of the break, but they scarcely looked likely of scoring.
Conversely the French continued to look dangerous every time they had the ball. Diminutive winger Andreu claimed his first try in his first start, while Yannick Jauzion and Alexandre Lapandry also scored as the French all but secured the title.
Two late Italian tries in the final 15 minutes took some shine off the victory and brought some respectability for the visitors, but the result was never in doubt.
By Grant Ball