Maxime Machenaud kicked 17 points as France beat Italy 34-17 at the Velodrome in Marseille on Friday night. MARIETTE ADAMS reports.
Coming into the game, France and Italy were winless in the tournament and occupied the two spots at the bottom of the log. Staying true to that form, this fixture failed to transfer into a high-quality clash and yet it didn’t lack intensity.
France, without the services of eight squad members – all banned for one Test due to inappropriate conduct while on tour in Scotland – were particularly careless and wasteful. They squandered at least three clear-cut scoring opportunities. And their poor finishing at one end was matched by poor exit-play at the other.
Fortunately, the boot of scrumhalf Machenaud kept the scoreboard ticking over to avoid panic in the hosts’ ranks before a late surge put them out of the Azzurri’s reach.
Italy were equally chaotic, but their defence, particularly in the first half, should be commended. Under siege, the Italians repelled two attacks right on their tryline. And the contest might have been a closer affair had Italy been able to get a greater share of possession. Unfortunately, France did well to starve them of possession.
France drew first blood when a steal on the ground by Mathieu Bastareaud led to a try for No 4 lock Paul Gabrillagues.
The conversion was unsuccessful and moments later Italy would take the lead. After France conceded a penalty for playing the opposition’s scrumhalf, Italy executed a perfect lineout drive and pushed over the tryline, but the TMO confirmed the ball was not grounded. To Italy’s relief and delight, referee Wayne Barnes awarded them a penalty try, which translated to an automatic seven-pointer.
France then started to dominate the contest. With backs and forwards combining beautifully, they hit the gainline hard, making easy metres. Though Italy defended the tryline valiantly during that period, Machenaud slotted two penalties as France regained the lead just before half-time.
France’s sloppiness didn’t let up after the break, but Italy’s resistance did crumble.
Leading 11-7, Les Bleus botched another easy chance to extend their advantage when they created a three-man overlap inside the 22, only for the final pass to go horribly wrong.
Machenaud and Tommy Allan traded penalties for a 14-10 scoreline, but France were finally able to convert their opportunities into points in the last quarter.
Two superb offloads by Bastareaud and Rémy Grosso allowed fullback Hugo Bonneval to score behind the posts. They added 13 points soon after, including a converted try by Bastareaud to secure the victory.
But while there was still time for France to go in search of the bonus-point try, it was Italy who had the final say when fullback Matteo Minozzi crossed for a try against the run of play.
France – Tries: Paul Gabrillagues, Hugo Bonneval, Mathieu Bastareaud. Conversions: Maxine Machenaud, François Trinh-Duc. Penalties: Machenaud (5).
Italy – Tries: Penalty try, Matteo Minozzi. Conversion: Carlo Canna. Penalty: Tommy Allan.
France – 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Rémy Grosso, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Subs: 16 Adrien Pelissié, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Kélian Galletier, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Gaël Fickou.
Italy – 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Subs: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali 19 George Biagi, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward.
Photo: Mike Hewitt/Getty Images