ROME: France got their Six Nations title defense off to a winning start after squeezing past Italy 29-24 in Rome on Sunday. Thibaud Flament, Thomas Ramos, debutant Ethan Dumortier and Matthieu Jalibert scored tries at the Stadio Olimpico to give France a tight bonus point victory which pulls them level on five points with Ireland and Scotland. The French, however, were a long way short of the side that won the Grand Slam last year, giving away 18 penalties and almost handing the game to an Italy side revitalised by their Autumn victory over Australia.
“There is nothing to jump around about after this victory,” said France captain Antoine Dupont. “We were too indisciplined, we gave away too many penalties. We know very well that at this level this is not acceptable and that we will have to rectify that quickly.” Italy acquitted themselves well, with Ange Capuozzo’s score before half-time, a penalty try and 12 points from Tommaso Allan ensuring the hosts put up a decent fight.
Les Bleus looked set for an easy victory after scoring three of their four tries within the first 26 minutes but the World Cup favorites did not have it all their own way. “What I do hope that comes out of this is that the team gets recognition for what they’ve done,” said Italy coach Kieran Crowley. “They had an off day because our boys played bloody well. We lost because we didnt execute as well as we could have in the first 20 minutes, it’s as simple as that.”
Italy needed to keep things tight early on but that was the precise opposite of what they did. Stephen Varney’s badly timed box kick was charged down by big second row Flament, who had the presence of mind to bring the ball under control before it hit the deck and strolled in under the posts for a try that Ramos converted. Allan pulled points back for the hosts with a penalty but Italy almost handed France another try seconds later when Juan Ignacio Brex gave the ball away in his own 22, Charles Ollivon just failing to get the ball down.
However France were 12-3 ahead in the 19th minute, a lengthy TMO review eventually giving Ramos the try after officials ruled Damian Penaud’s challenge for the ball with Capuozzo legal. Allan kicked another penalty to half the hosts’ deficit but France had a wonderful third try soon after, Romain Ntamack clipping a perfect kick over to the left flank where Lyon wing Dumortier, playing his first Test, burst in to dot down for a converted score.
France looked like they were set to run riot but Capuozzo squeezed into the corner for a fine try in the 32nd minute. And after a concerted spell of home pressure Allan kicked another penalty in overtime to leave the hosts only trailing 19-14 at the break. The Italians drew to within just a point of the French when Ollivon brought down an Italy maul inches from his own try line to hand his opponents a penalty try. The France flanker collected a yellow card and 10 minutes in the sin-bin into the bargain which allowed Italy to get their noses in front for the first time.
Another penalty from Allan put the Italians two points ahead to give the home fans a brief glimpse of a famous win only for Jalibert’s converted score to snatch the match for France. “We’ll try to be positive but obviously today there are a lot more negatives than positives,” said scrum half Dupont. “And when you see the score and the script, it could have been worse.” France face Ireland in Dublin next Saturday while Italy travel to Twickenham to meet England on Sunday. – AFP