Jules Plisson kicked a late penalty as France claimed a hard-fought 23-21 win over Italy in Paris on Saturday. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
With the match heading back and forth, Plisson held his nerve to slot a long-range penalty in the 75th minute.
Italy then patiently worked their way towards France's 22 only for captain Sergio Parisse to attempt a drop goal instead of replacement flyhalf Kelly Haimona. His attempt went well wide and the final whistle blew.
For all the hype surrounding the Six Nations, the tournament’s opening match was a scrappy, uninspiring affair, lacking intensity and littered with errors.
Both teams moved on from their failed World Cup excursions by fielding relatively young match-day squads. France were too passive for most of the match, but upped the ante in the final 15 minutes to deny the Azzurri, who were desperately unlucky to be on the wrong end of this result.
Italy flyhalf Carlo Canno opened the scoring in the eighth minute when he dropped back into the pocket and slotted a drop goal. France hit back through Virimi Vakatawa, the Fijian-born winger given an easy run-in to score a Test try on debut.
The hosts were then dealt a major blow when chief ball-carrier Louis Picamoles was forced to leave the field through injury.
The errors continued to pile up, while Canna and Sébastien Bezy didn’t do their teams any favours with their poor place-kicking. This prompted both sides to look at other point-scoring alternatives.
First, Italy turned down a kickable penalty and from the back of a well-constructed lineout drive, Parisse dotted down. Then France showed wonderful vision by taking a quick tap rather than a shot at goal, which resulted in a try for blindside flank Damien Chouly.
Italy almost snatched the lead on the stroke of half-time when outside centre Michele Campagnaro broke the line, but a desperate cover tackle stopped him short of the tryline and France cleared the ball to hold onto their slender two-point advantage.
The visitors made a good start to the second stanza, with Canna nailing a penalty and scoring a self-converted try, before France responded with a converted try by winger Hugo Bonneval.
Plisson and Italy's Kelly Haimona then traded successful kicks at goal, but the former had the final say when he added a second penalty.
France – Tries: Virimi Vakatawa, Damien Chouly, Hugo Bonneval. Conversion: Jules Plisson. Penalty: Plisson (2).
Italy – Try: Sergio Parisse, Carlo Canna. Conversion: Canna. Penalty: Canna, Kelly Haimona. Drop goal: Canna.
France – 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Hugo Bonneval, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sébastien Bezy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Jefferson Poirot, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz.
Italy – 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Andries van Schalkwyk, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Kelly Haimona, 23 Luke McLean.
Photo: Franck Fife/AFP Photo