Fabulous France leave Kirwan on brink

Italy 13 - France 56
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The Independent Online

Apart from the pressure that was put on Wales and Ireland in Cardiff by this seven-try demolition of Italy - only the second time they have piled up a half century against their opponents in the championship - France will have sent a frisson of apprehension round the world with a display that brought their Six Nations campaign to a sizzling climax.

Apart from the pressure that was put on Wales and Ireland in Cardiff by this seven-try demolition of Italy - only the second time they have piled up a half century against their opponents in the championship - France will have sent a frisson of apprehension round the world with a display that brought their Six Nations campaign to a sizzling climax.

All season Les Bleus have promised more and more of their brand of out-and-out attacking rugby and yesterday they delivered it in emphatic fashion, acquiring the necessary points margin to keep themselves in the title race to the last and sadly exposing Italy at the death.

The Azzurri were left whitewashed, the career of their coach John Kirwan looking close to washed up.

France's coach, Bernard Laporte, could afford a small smile. "I am very proud of the performance," he said. "It is what I had hoped for but not expected quite this soon."

Kirwan, who has been insisting all along that his team are making good progress, maintained that stance after the rout. "Clive Woodward had three poor years with England but was given time to rebuild and they went on to win the World Cup," he said. "Patience is what is required with Italy."

If Italy are improving, so too are their opponents, as France showed yesterday. It seems the Italians are doomed forever to play catch-up, although it can certainly be said that their improvement curve is steeper than anyone else's.

There is definitely an edge to their game, albeit one that is confined to the forwards, any of whom could hold down a place in the other five teams.

The evidence for this strength, in every sense of the word, was there for all to see in the sunshine at the Stadio Flaminio, where shortly before Kaine Robertson's superb interception try as the half-hour approached the French pressed hard from a penalty line-out five metres from the Italian line.

Not only were they repulsed but they then had the indignity of seeing Yann Delaigue's attempt to find the ever dangerous Christophe Dominici brilliantly anticipated by Robertson, who tore upfield for fully 80 metres, hounded and harried but never caught. Having touched down under the posts he left Gert Peens with a simple conversion.

France's second try had threatened to spark a murderous onslaught as they chased after that all-important margin of 42 points. But Robertson's try checked that and the visitors suffered a further blow a few minutes later when Dominici was felled with what appeared to be a stiff-arm tackle from the tight-head prop Salvatore Perugini.

Since Dominici had set up the first two tries with brilliant breaks and dazzling footwork, it was a worrying incident that could well lead to a citing. The France manager Jo Maso said he had asked the citing commissioner to study a video of the incident.

Dominici was knocked out and remained unconscious for two anxious minutes while paramedics treated him on the pitch. He was eventually brought round, but suffered a concussion and was taken to hospital for further examination.

France hit back pretty quickly though, stretching the Italian defence out wide. And if Cédric Heymans' pass to Damien Traille - Dominici's replacement - looked well forward, the subsequent one to Julien Laharrague, steaming up in support, was not and the full-back duly scored, Dimitri Yachvili collecting his third conversion.

Each of the French tries had exposed the Italian backs and there was only so much the Azzurri forwards could do to repel the invaders.

The French threequarters were doing what they had promised to do in steadily increasing doses throughout the championship, shredding the opposition defence with their blistering pace and stunning handling.

This confident, open approach is just what Laporte has been looking for from his largely inexperienced charges, especially with a summer tour to come that involves two Tests in South Africa and a third against Australia.

Italy also have a Test against the Wallabies, preceded by two against the powerful Argentinians. Whether a Six Nations whitewash - even if they are improving - will help their build-up to so demanding a summer is open to debate.

They are in desperate need of quality players from No 10 to No 15. It may be that the new boy Simon Picone, and the relatively inexperienced wing Ludovico Nitoglia, have what it takes to make it to the top but one talented player per position is not enough. Strength in depth is needed.

To attract talent Italy have to start winning, as steady improvement alone is not going to do the trick.

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