For the first time in history, Marseille played host to a Six Nations game in the Stade Velodrome. The change in venue brought a change in fortunes for France and head coach Jacques Brunel. Despite the Italians leaking yards in the contact area, Conor O’Shea’s team limited Les Bleus to just one try in the first half but ultimately fell away in the second half.
Here are five quick conclusions from tonight’s game.
Mathieu Bastareaud impresses upon his international return
The Toloun centre made his return to rugby after serving a three-game ban handed out while playing for his club. The 120kg midfielder produced a great game for France in Marseille, adding another dimension to Les Bleus’ attacking game. Balanced well as a decoy and genuine carrier, Bastareaud’s work after contact was superb, showing terrific handling skills.
Physical in the carry, Bastareaud’s sheer strength was kept in reserve until France’s entered Italy’s 22, with Beauxis timing the 29-year-old’s involvement astutely. The Toulon man capped his performance with a try of his own in the 71st minute.
There will be sterner tests to come for Bastareaud but today’s outing will give him plenty of confidence going forward.
Italy’s deflating line-out
Italy worked hard in the first half and despite the Azzurri leaking yards, they limited France to just one try. Italy managed to work themselves into good positions during the game but their line-out in particular let them down.
Despite having an agile forward pack with an array of jumping options, the Italian line-out was well below par and proved to be of more harm than good with each mistake sapping more and more from the Italians.
France’s openside Yacouba Camara applied significant pressure to the Italian line-out but the Italians will be disappointed with their own performance with Ghiraldini failing to connect with his man on a number of occasions.
If Italy are to become capable of competing in the competition, their line-out needs to become a priority.
Sebastian Negri making waves
The Zimbabwean born Italian back rower is one of the stars of the championship thus far. Incredibly physical, the 23-year-old punched holes in the French line for 80 minutes and showed terrific handling skills for a brilliant offload in the narrow channels.
Part of the new generation of Italian forwards, Negri is one of, if not the most dangerous element to this Italian team, with the Benetton flanker capable of carrying numerous times within the same phase of play.
France finally get the win they’ve deserved
After two mixed but encouraging displays in the opening rounds of the Six Nations, Les Bleus have earned a win. Although they came away without the bonus point, Jacques Brunel will be relieved to have picked up his first victory as head coach.
Their discipline let them down at Murrayfield, but it took a piece of magic from Ireland’s Johnathan Sexton to make the difference at the Stade de France.
Finally, France have a win and a foothold in their overall development that the French management can use to spur their players on even further
Julien Bonnaire bringing sis line-out prowess to the next generation
Brunel’s decision to bring aboard Bonnaire’s skillset onto the French coaching ticket is proving to be a masterstroke. The former French international has brought his international experience and talents to the training ground and France’s forwards seem to be reveling in his tactical nous.
Yacouba Camara had a phenomenal game against Italy and has been one of France’s best players thus far in the championship. The Montpellier back rower left the field early in the second half and as one of the standout performers in the tournament as a whole, it would be a shame if he was withdrawn due to injury.
Camara has flourished come line-out time and Bonnaire’s influence is blatantly apparent in his game.
Despite France being the first team this year yet to pick up a bonus point against Italy, tonight’s victory was a much-needed win for Brunel and his side.