Damian Penaud scored a crucial try to allow France to claim a 25-14 win over Italy in Rome on Saturday. DYLAN JACK reports.
The Italians will be furious with themselves after a final-round defeat that condemned them to a 0-5 campaign. The hosts dominated territory and had the best of the chances, but a lack of composure in key areas saw them lose the ball.
The French, meanwhile, lived off scraps of possession from where winger Penaud and flyhalf Romain Ntamack managed a telling impact on the game.
Italy drew first blood as their aggressive defence allowed them to force France back into their own 22 and give away a couple of penalties, which flyhalf Tommaso Allan kicked.
However, France then hit back as fullback Maxime Medard set Penaud through a gap, and the wing passed on his inside to Antoine Dupont, who sprinted clear for the opening try.
That seemed to awaken France from their slumber, and after an impressive effort at the scrum they won a penalty that Ntamack kicked to put them 10-6 ahead.
Italy fired back themselves and continued to have the better of the game in the first half, coming closest from a chip ahead from Allan which rebounded off the post, denying centre Marco Zanon the chance of a debut score.
Italy kept the momentum in the second half, with Allan kicking his third penalty to bring them within two points of the lead. However, France again hit straight back as Ntamack produced a moment of brilliance by stepping into a gap before putting Yoann Huget away out wide for his fourth try of the tournament.
Despite Allan missing his fourth penalty attempt, the Italians finally got reward for their territory as a strong run from Sergio Parisse brought them into France’s 22. The hosts took the ball through the phases and Tito Tebaldi was able to exploit a defensive lapse to snipe over from close range.
A decisive blow came in the final quarter when Penaud kicked the ball downfield and was able to win a penalty in Italian territory. France went for the lineout and Ntamack slotted a drop goal to give them a more comfortable cushion.
Italy went on the offensive in the final 10 minutes, desperate for what could be a winning try. Their efforts were boosted when France’s penalty count went too high and hooker Camille Chat was sent to the sin bin for a cynical infringement at the maul.
Zanon thought he had made himself a hero when he ‘scored’ from an overlap, but the try was correctly ruled out since Penaud’s tackle dislodged the ball as he was diving in.
Ntamack then broke Italian hearts as he won an aerial battle and offloaded to Penaud, with the wing sprinting through to score and seal the game.
Italy – Try: Tito Tebaldi. Penalties: Tommaso Allan (3).
France – Tries: Antoine Dupont, Yoann Huget, Damian Penaud. Conversion: Romain Ntamack. Penalty: Ntamack. Drop goal: Ntamack
Italy – 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Braam Steyn, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 David Sisi, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini , 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Luca Sperandio.
France – 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Gregory Alldritt, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Félix Lambey, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Etienne Falgoux.
Subs: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Arthur Iturria, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos.
Photo: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images