France begins their Six Nations campaign with a narrow 23-21 win against Italy
Tries from Virimi Vakatawa and Damien Chouly gave Les Bleus a narrow 10-8 lead at the break
Sergio Parisse’s score combined with Carlos Canna’s drop-goal kept the Azzurri in the game
Canna’s converted score gave the Azzurri an 18-10 lead early in the second half
France retook the initiative with Hugo Bonneval’s score, but they still needed a late penalty from Jules Plisson to win it
France edged to an unconvincing win over Italy to make a successful start to their Six Nations campaign.
As tactical performances go this was one of the Azzurri’s finest for years, and they surpassed all pre-tournament expectations, arguably deserving more for their efforts in an entertaining contest.
The visitors played without fear from the start but France, despite clearly lacking leadership and experience, still managed to hold a narrow 10-8 lead heading into half-time.
The Azzurri had initially taken the lead through a Carlo Canna drop-goal but sevens star Virimi Vakatawa, on his Test debut for France, put the home side in front with a classy finish soon after.
Talismanic captain Sergio Parisse then forced the ball down for Italy following a powerful lineout drive but a quick tap and go from France resulted in Damien Chouly touching down to ensure the hosts went into the break with a narrow two-point advantage.
Canna then finished off a burst by Parisse to put the visitors in the ascendancy after the restart.
However, France retook the initiative with Hugo Bonneval’s score, but they still needed a late penalty from Jules Plisson to hand a narrow 23-21 win to new coach Guy Noves.
Italy did though have a chance to win the match late on but Sergio Parisse’s drop goal sailed wide in overtime
The first points at the 2016 Six Nations at the Stade de France surprisingly came from the underdog visitors. The Azzurri carried the ball confidently to the edge of Les Bleus 22 before Canna’s sweetly struck drop-goal flew between the posts, 0-3.
Sébastien Bezy had a chance to level from the tee soon after but saw his effort drift wide.
However, France was in front soon after as sevens star Virimi Vakatawa his class to beat his man and touch down in the corner. Bezy again failed from the tee, 5-3.
The Azzurri though recaptured the lead through their talismanic Captain Parisse after 26 minutes, with the powerhouse forcing the ball down after a very well constructed lineout drive. Canna though missed a conversion, meaning the visitors held a narrow three-point advantage.
France though displayed some of the free-flowing passing that they are known for with Chouly finishing comfortably in the corner after a quick tap and go. Bezy again struggled under the pressure with his kick flying wide of the left post, 10-8.
Italy though made the perfect start the second half with a Canna penalty edging the visitors a point in front.
The away side then touched down a second try to give them an unexpected eight-point lead. A great run from Gori set up the move before unleashing Parisse, who was hauled down just short. The Italians though kept their cool to recycle the ball, and Canna darted his way over for the try. The man of the moment then made it a 7-pointer by adding the conversion, 10-18.
France pulled themselves back to within a point when Hugo Bonneval touched down in the corner, with Plisson — who until that point had fared terribly with the boot — landing a superb conversion from out wide.
Another excellent Plisson kick with 11 minutes to put France ahead 20-18, but Kelly Haimona edged Italy back in front with a penalty on 74 minutes.
But a controversial penalty award against Parisse with five minutes to go allowed Plisson to land another peach of a kick. Parisse attempted a drop goal with the last play of the match, but he pulled it wide to the relief of the home crowd.
MAN OF THE MATCH
Italy: Sergio Parisse
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
Replacements: 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
Replacements: 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
Date: Saturday, February 6
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 15:25 local (14:25 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)