“We have things to work on,” France coach Fabien Galthié said. “We have to develop our potential.” Right winger Teddy Thomas, flanker Charles Ollivon and No. 8 Grégory Alldritt crossed with left winger Matteo Minozzi getting Italy's first try — all in the first half.
“The team was shaken a bit by the Italians,” Galthié said. “But we were wasteful and that's one of the lessons we need to learn from this match.” It was dour after the break until silky flyhalf Romain Ntamack woke up a sleepy Stade de France with a fine finish in the 60th minute, cutting through the defense after scrumhalf Antoine Dupont and Thomas set him up and earning France an attacking bonus point.
Replacement scrumhalf Baptiste Serin scored the game's best try late on, taking a tap penalty, breaking a couple of tackles and running onto his own grubber kick to dive over for a converted score. With winds swirling at around 90 kph (56 mph) per hour because of Storm Ciara hitting northern Europe, handling and kicking was more difficult.
Ntamack quickly put France on the board with a penalty, then set up Thomas for the opening try in the seventh minute with a clever grubber kick. Swirling wind took Ntamack's conversion and a 15th-minute penalty wide of the posts.
It was a brief reprieve for Italy, though, as Dupont launched an attack and France's forwards dragged captain Ollivon into the left corner in the 18th. It was his third try in two games, following his brace in last Sunday's 24-17 win against Rugby World Cup runner-up England.
Only the wind was thwarting Les Tricolors at this stage, with Ntamack's difficult conversion from the left neatly sailing through before a gust slowed the ball down and sent it on to the post. Then France's intensity dropped.
A missed tackle by Dupont gave Italy room down the left flank, and Minozzi scampered through. Flyhalf Tommaso Allan converted it and slotted over a penalty to bring Italy back in to the game. “We were less consistent in defense, we let them get behind us," Galthié said. “We made mistakes in the rucks from which we couldn't get out of."
As a result of Italy closing the gap to 13-10, France didn't run the next penalty it got, with Ntamack instead slotting over an insurance penalty. Just before halftime, the lively Dupont sent Alldritt clear with a looping pass to the left wing and Ntamack's conversion hit the left and right post before going over for 23-10.
Italy started the second half strongly, with a driving maul forcing the home side into conceding a penalty that Allan — a talented attacking half but an inconsistent kicker — sliced wide. France's missed tackles won't have pleased Shaun Edwards, the former rugby league star now in charge of the French defense. But the Italians couldn't convert pressure into points and the 20-year-old Ntamack punished them with his second international try.
It didn't finish Italy off. The Azurri hit back as replacement prop Federico Zani burrowed over, following a smart lineout take from No. 8 Braam Steyn and another impressive driving maul. Galthié sensed complacency so he changed his halves, the skillful Serin scored and replacement flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert slotted over the extras.
“They responded well,” Galthié said. “They brought a touch of freshness, a desire to show they could lift the team and organize the game, so it's very satisfying.” Not so the defense, as more sloppiness let Italy get a third try through right winger Mattia Bellini.
Galthié and Edwards will work on the defending before facing Wales in Cardiff on Feb. 22. “We worked well during the week but maybe our concentration dropped at certain times in the game,” Ollivon said, reflecting on Sunday's game. “The second half was more difficult than the first. Things weren't all perfect but the Italians played well."
France could be without left winger Vincent Rattez, who had replaced the injured Damian Penaud in the team before the England game. He went off near the end against Italy after spraining his right ankle.
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