It is a measure of the strength of French rugby that they can more or less throw a team together which beats Italy with plenty to spare, but one wonders whether the Six Nations Championship is slightly the weaker for it. Tries by three backs – Anthony Floch, Yannick Jauzion and Aurélien Rougerie – hinted at French potency behind the scrum yet it went mostly untapped through lack of continuity.
That is precisely what the France coach, Marc Lièvremont, has risked by tinkering with his selection throughout this Championship. To nobody's surprise, he promised more changes for the match against Wales on Saturday. The French need a 19-point win in Cardiff to hang on to the Six Nations Championship trophy but that must surely only be imaginable in fantasy. The team is a world away from 1998, when a side featuring Lièvremont himself beat the Welsh 51-0 at Wembley.
Doubtless Lièvremont sees his glass of vin rouge as half full, so that the 34 players he has used in this Championship – five Test debutants yesterday took the total to 12 in four matches – have advanced the national cause nicely. A near capacity crowd here was supportive and ready to be roused. But for that to happen France needed their flankers, Fulgence Ouedraogo and Ibrahim Diarra – "Fufu" and "Ibou" to their mates – to be on better than nodding acquaintance with their half-backs.
Italy's coach, Nick Mallett, had openly admitted he expected to lose his winning record on this ground (French Championship finals with Stade Français in 2003 and 2004 and the Springboks' 1999 World Cup victory over England). "We are working with the resources we have got," said Mallett. "Show me a 6ft 4in Italian wing who can run 10.6 seconds for 100 metres and I will pick him."
Up front, things are more encouraging. Italy had scored arguably the forwards' try of the Championship in defeat by Ireland and they repeated the feat 17 minutes into the second half yesterday, with an almost identical line-out drive finished by the same man, the Leicester tight-head prop Martin Castrogiovanni.
France began with a fairly tasty forwards' drive of their own to set up the opening try in the 14th minute. Diarra caught a line-out and Dimitri Szarzeswki peeled to the back of a maul which steamed from the 10-metre line into the Italy 22. Sticking to Lièvremont's pre-match dictum to mix up the game by using the boot, the fly-half François Trinh-Duc chipped to the left corner where Julien Malzieu leapt above Andrea Marcato to deliver a volleyball-style spike inside for the full-back, Floch, to score.
Dimitri Yachvili's conversion made it 7-0 but Italy replied quickly with a penalty by Marcato from 40 metres. For a while Szarzewski's line-out throws appeared magnetically drawn to Italy's Sergio Parisse and Castrogiovanni at the tail, and the Italians might have led after 20 minutes if Gonzalo Canale had not spilt a difficult pass on the end of a move he began by looping around Parisse, Josh Sole and Leonardo Ghiraldini taking it on at pace. A second penalty by Marcato was sandwiched by two from Yachvili and France led 13-6 at half-time.
Yachvili's chip after a series of rucks made France's second try for Yannick Jauzion 12 minutes into the second half; then there was Castrogiovanni's lung-bursting score. A more fluent French side might have piled on the points in the final quarter.
All the French mustered, in fact, was a try from a scrum scored by Rougerie – one of those wings Mallett would love at his disposal – who ran hard and true in support of an equally direct incursion by Damien Traille.
The Italians could yet avoid the wooden spoon; they need to defeat Scotland by five points in Rome on Saturday to do so.
France: A Floch; A Rougerie (both Clermont), Y David (Bourgoin), Y Jauzion (Toulouse), J Malzieu (Clermont); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), D Yachvili (Biarritz); F Barcella (Auch), D Szarzewski (Stade Français), N Mas (Perpignan), L Nallet (Castres, capt), J Thion (Biarritz), F Ouedraogo (Montpellier), I Diarra (Montauban), L Picamoles (Montpellier). Replacements: G Guirado (Perpignan) for Szarzewski, 62; J-B Poux (Toulouse) for Mas, 61; A Mela (Albi) for Thion, 67; J Bonnaire (Clermont) for Diarra, 49; J Tomas (Montpellier) for Yachvili, 70; D Traille (Biarritz) for David, 58; V Clerc (Toulouse) for Floch, 54-61.
Italy: A Marcato (Treviso); K Robertson (Viadana), G Canale (Clermont), Mi Bergamasco (Stade Français), E Galon (Overmach Parma); A Masi (Biarritz), S Picone (Treviso); A Lo Cicero (Racing-Métro), L Ghiraldini (Calvisano), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), C A Del Fava (Ulster), M Bortolami (Gloucester), J Sole (Viadana), A Zanni (Calvisano), S Parisse (Stade Français, capt). Replacements: F Ongaro (Saracens) for Ghiraldini, 55; C Nieto (Gloucester) for Castrogiovanni, 58; S Perugini (Toulouse) for Lo Cicero, 55; J Erasmus (Viadana) for Bortolami, 7-14; for Del Fava, 35-40; P Travagli (Overmach Parma) for Picone, 68; E Patrizio (Petrarca Padova) for Canale, 74.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).Reuse content