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France 34-17 Italy Talking Points from Marseille

High five: Try-scorer Hugo Bonneval is congratulated by Wenceslas Lauret (Getty Images) Rugby World

The key talking points from France’s 34-17 win over Italy in Marseille in the 2018 Six Nations, a match that ended an eight-game barren streak for the under-fire Bleus team


France 34-17 Italy Talking Points

France broke their duck in this year’s Six Nations, winning a mediocre affair against bottom-placed Italy in Marseille. It ended an eight-match winless run for the French, whose new head coach Jacques Brunel – a former boss of Italy – recorded his first win with the side following defeats to Ireland and Scotland.

Tries by Paul Gabrillagues, Hugo Bonneval and Mathieu Bastareaud did the damage, with Maxime Machenaud kicking five penalties in an error-strewn and stop-start spectacle.

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Italy managed an early penalty try and a late converted effort by Matteo Minozzi. Sandwiched between was one Tommaso Allan penalty but this 80 laboured minutes does little to quell the debate about the possible introduction of promotion and relegation.

It was Italy’s 15th successive Six Nations defeat, a record for the Azzurri.

A lack of fizz

This was history in the making as it was the first time France had taken a home championship game outside Paris, and the first championship game outside a capital since Wales and Scotland did battle at Swansea in 1954.

New stage: Italy and France line up for the anthems at Stade Velodrome in Marseille (Getty Images) Rugby World

Unfortunately, it failed to fully capture the imagination. There were a lot of empty seats at the Stade Velodrome. Le Figaro reported yesterday that tickets had not been selling well and there remained 17,000 still on sale (out of a total of 67,000).

The high error count by both sides fuelled the subdued atmosphere. It only took until the 53rd minute for the Mexican wave to start up – a sure sign of restlessness.

French inaccuracy

You can’t say France didn’t create chances. In the first half alone, Wenceslas Lauret was put through a hole by Lionel Beauxis but failed to give the pass. Another attack stalled on the visitors’ line but Machenaud dithered at the ruck and the ball was turned over.

Then an offload a couple of metres from Italy’s try-line bounced off Bastareaud’s knee and a defender just beat the Toulon centre to the touchdown.

Remy Grosso’s powerful left-wing run also ended in disappointment.

Too impatient? A lack of depth by support runners? No understanding from players unfamiliar with each other after a raft of changes? It was all of those things.

Leading figure: Italy captain Sergio Parisse issues instructions during the game (Getty Images) Rugby World

France did get some reward eventually but they may feel a bonus point (available for scoring four tries) got away from them against a gutsy but limited Italian side.

And we have a gripe with full-back Bonneval’s try on the hour: it looked legitimate but why on earth didn’t we see a slo-mo to check that the impressive Grosso hadn’t gone into touch before passing out of the tackle?

Driving mauls

Two struggling teams but if you’re low in confidence, you can always stick the ball up your shirt.

Four minutes in, France kicked a penalty to the corner and from the lineout a shift drive sent Gabrillagues, the Stade Francais lock, over the line.

Driving force: this maul resulted in a penalty try and put Italy ahead in the first half (Getty Images) Rugby World

Five minutes later, it was Italy’s turn to ignore a kick at goal. Sebastien Vahaamahina infringed at the subsequent drive but Italy thundered forward anyway. Leonardo Ghiraldini was awarded the try, then denied it after intervention by the TMO, but referee Wayne Barnes decided the maul had been collapsed and gave a penalty try.

“If you love a maul you should be here,” said Joe Worsley, the ex-England flanker who coaches in France.

Gallic muscle

Slow, slow, quick, slow, slow. The game lacked the pace and tempo we associate with Six Nations games, but there were glimpses of good French handling around the fringes.

France won the gain-line battle decisively and made inroads – 606m to Italy’s 346m.

Other unpalatable stats for Conor O’Shea’s men were the 37% possession and 34% territory with which they were forced to operate, and the concession of 16 penalties.

Bastareaud impact

Bright spots were hard to find. But Bastareaud, back after a three-week ban, made his mark in midfield. He carried 15 times, tackled hard and registered a try with eight minutes remaining, burrowing over from close range. “He made a lot of passes, a lot of offloads. He was the best player on the pitch,” said former France coach Philippe Saint-Andre.

Big impression: centre Mathieu Bastareaud looks to make his size tell against Italy (Getty Images) Rugby World

Back-row Yacouba Camara was a prominent carrier and lineout presence. He and Bastareaud showed great hands straight after half-time but, as a try beckoned, Beauxis’s pass didn’t go to hand and another opportunity was spurned.

It was that sort of match: too many penalties, too many handling errors, and a sense of inevitability that, no matter how bravely Italy defended their line, only one outcome was possible. On this form neither side will induce any fear in British and Irish opposition.

Up and running: after two defeats, Jacques Brunel got his first win as France coach (Getty Images) Rugby World

France – Tries: Gabrillagues (4), Bonneval (59), Bastareaud (72). Cons: Machenaud, Trinh-Duc. Pens: Machenaud 5.
Italy – Tries: Penalty try (9), Minozzi (78). Con: Canna. Pen: Allan.

France H Bonneval; B Fall, M Bastareaud, G Doumayrou (G Fickou 65), R Grosso; L Beauxis (F Trinh-Duc 70), M Machenaud (B Couilloud 70); J Poirot (D Priso 60), G Guirado (capt, A Pelissie 38-40, 70), R Slimani (C Gomes Sa 70), P Gabrillagues, S Vahaamahina (R Taofifenua 65), W Lauret, Y Camara (K Galletier 56), M Tauleigne.

Italy M Minozzi; T Benvenuti, T Boni (J Hayward 62), T Castello, M Bellini; T Allan (C Canna 70), M Violi (E Gori 48); A Lovotti (N Quaglio 56), L Ghiraldini (L Bigi 67), S Ferrari (T Pasquali 61), A Zanni, D Budd (G Biagi 33), S Negri (F Ruzza 70), M Mbanda, S Parisse (capt).