Italy 14 – 25 France
Italy’s wait for a first Six Nations win since 2015 goes on as they couldn’t show the composure required to come out on top against an unstructured France side in Rome.
Italy dominated the match for long periods but they spurned numerous try-scoring opportunities. They will look back at this 80-minute performance with a lot of regret knowing that they did more than enough to win.
A helter-skelter opening few minutes which saw both sides run with the ball in hand eventually culminated in a penalty for Italy which Tommaso Allan put between the posts to give his side an early 3-0 lead.
Italy went further ahead after 11 minutes on the clock when the Italians won a scrum penalty which allowed Allan to put his side a further three points in front.
Up until this point, it seemed like France were devoid of any gameplan.
However, as they do so often, a moment of magic produced the opening try of the game.
From an Italian 22 drop out, Damian Penaud got free down the near touchline before he dragged in the final defender to release scrum half Antoine Dupont for a simple run in. Romain Ntamack added the conversion to give his side a one-point lead.
Jacques Brunel’s responded to their earlier disappointment by winning a scrum penalty which allowed Ntamack to extend France’s lead to 6-10.
Italy were dealt some cruel luck a few minutes later when they were denied a try in some bizarre circumstances. A sublime grubber kick from Allan saw Marco Zanon race through to collect and score under the posts but the ball bounced off the padding around the post and fell to a French hand.
Conor O’Shea’s side did have a penalty advantage and the subsequent lineout maul went over the line but it was held up.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t a case of third time lucky as the resulting 5m scrum saw Italy power over the line but after another review, there was no video evidence of the ball on the whitewash. Play continued and Italy knocked on in contact on the next phase so France were able to get out of jail in what was a crucial moment of the game.
Just before halftime, Italy had another fantastic opportunity with a lineout just 5m from the French line but Leonardo Ghiraldini’s throw went over the top and France were able to clear.
A superb break and offload brought play into the French 22 on the stroke of halftime. France were penalised for not rolling away and a card really should have been issued by referee Matthew Carley. Nevertheless, Italy went to the corner for the umpteenth time but again, the ball went forward needlessly and France kicked the ball dead as the sides went in for the halftime break.
France conceded a penalty at the beginning of the second half as they entered a ruck from the side and this allowed Allan to narrow the margin to one point as his kick at goal sailed over the bar.
Just like they did in the first half, France hit back with a try once Italy had the wind in their sails. A long floating pass saw Yoann Huget go over in the corner to score his fourth try of the campaign. Ntamack added the conversion and despite dominating the game for long periods, Italy went 9-17 down.
Allan had an opportunity to cut the deficit with a penalty in front of the posts but he hooked his effort to the left and the ball went wide of the uprights.
A superb carry from Italy captain Sergio Parisse got his side on the front foot and the Italians finally showed some composure in attack as a series of well resourced, direct carries brought play just metres from the French line.
A tackle without the ball on Parisse saw a penalty advantage awarded to Italy but they didn’t need to use it as scrum-half Tito Tebaldi dummied from the base of a ruck to snipe over for a much-needed try.
Unfortunately for Italy, Allan’s effort with the conversion drifted wide so there was now three points between the teams.
There was a lengthy break in play as Ghiraldini was stretchered off with what looked to be a serious knee injury.
Tebaldi was at fault for needlessly throwing away possession when a loose pass was pounced on by France. The ball was kicked deep into the Italian 22 where France began to build a number of phases which culminated in a successful drop goal from Ntamack.
Italy were awarded a penalty for contact in the air during a lineout which was kicked to the corner by the home side.
From the resulting lineout maul, Luca Bigi made a huge carry and on the next phase, Tebaldi came incredibly close to scoring a try but he knocked on when he attempted to reach out and ground the ball.
With a six-point deficit, Italy were determined to get another try to potentially win the game.
A series of lineout mauls eventually led to Camille Chat going to the bin as the Racing 92 hooker brought down a dangerous looking maul from the Italians. With 71 minutes on the clock, France would see out the game with 14 men.
Italy went to the corner again and this time, a take by Alessandro Zanni was stopped in its tracks but France infringed again when Felix Lambey was penalised for a no-arms tackle.
Italy went for the maul again and the ball was eventually sent wide to Zanon and with a huge overlap, it looked certain like he would score but as he went to ground the ball, a tackle from Penaud dislodged it from the Italian’s grasp and a knock on was awarded.
Italy would rue that moment as with just 90 seconds on the clock, an incredible take in the air from Ntamack sent Penaud free on the far touchline who ran clear to score France’s third try of the game and break Italian hearts.
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, 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 David Sisi (Zanni 60′), 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (Bigi 58′), 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 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 Wesley Fofana, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont (Serin 58′); 1 Etienne Falgoux (Priso 65′), 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 3 Demba Bamba, 4 Felix Lambey, 5 Paul Willemse (Gabrillagues 60′), 6 Gregory Alldritt (Iturria 58′), 7 Yacouba Camara, 8 Louis Picamoles.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Arthur Iturria, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos.