With just one competitive game remaining before the World Cup, France were plunged into crisis on a day of unrivalled jubilation for Italy in Rome.
Italy's hero, Mirco Bergamasco, completed the biggest surprise in Six Nations history with his late winner to sink the defending Grand Slam champions and simultaneously seal the immediate fate of both head coaches.
Nick Mallett was facing the axe as head coach of the Azzurri after three successive defeats yet with that swing of Bergamasco's boot, the blade has now shifted ominously over the neck of Marc Lièvremont.
France's suave and charismatic head coach has appeared un-flusterable during his reign, in which he has tinkered with the look and shape of his team enough to make Alex Ferguson appear conservative.
Yesterday he made one change too many and could pay for it with his job. France were still hurting from the 50-point humiliation at the hands of Australia in November before successive defeats to England and now Italy. Defeat on Saturday in Paris against the resurgent Welsh will spark cries from the masses for the guillotine.
Yesterday, Lièvremont was furious and accused some members of his team of being cowards. "There is a certain form of cowardice – when I speak with them, nothing happens, as usual," he said.
"I feel like I'm responsible for this but the players are lacking courage. Some of the players maybe wore the France jersey for the last time."
Lièvremont added: "Do you really think that I told them to play as they did against Italy? I was ashamed. I do not have the impression we asked them to walk on the moon. I do not ask for complicated things."
There were few signs of the drama in store at Stadio Flaminio when France opened an 18-6 lead; first, Vincent Clerc made light work of a half-chance, then Morgan Parra raced onto Francois Trinh-Duc's pass to score under the posts.
When Bergamasco missed twice in quick succession, the writing was on the wall for Italy, although Andrea Masi scored from a pass by their outstanding scrum-half Fabio Semenzato.
Bergamasco chipped away before landing his fifth penalty five minutes from time. Memories of Ronan O'Gara's last-gasp drop goal at the weekend then flooded back as France sought to launch one final attack in injury time.
Mallett said: "This is a great moment for Italian rugby and probably my best day as a coach. I have won games with the Springboks and Stade but helping Italy beat a team as strong as France is a very special result.
"We deserved to win because of the desire we showed. When I looked at the French players after Mirco's last kick, I knew we could win. Their heads were down, their shoulders slumped and unlike Ireland in the first game, there appeared no appetite or spirit to come back."
The South African wants to stay with Italy after the World Cup and although FIR president Giancarlo Dondi maintains that would be a fitting time for change, with Perpignan coach Jacques Brunel waiting in the wings, Mallett is now assured of making it to New Zealand this year.
Mallett said: "I was always sure that this squad is coming of age and that's why I want to stay.
"With the exception of the England game, we have produced three strong performances at the highest level. We should have beaten Ireland, we pushed Wales right to the wire and now we have beaten France. If we play well against Scotland next week, that will be four games from five that we were capable of winning."
Victory in Murrayfield on Saturday would be only the second time Italy have claimed two wins in a Championship, and would leave Andy Robinson facing the same questions as Lièvremont.
Scorers: Italy: Try Masi Conversion M Bergamasco Penalties M Bergamasco (5); France: Tries Clerc, Parra Conversion Parra Penalties Parra (3).
Italy A Masi; T Benvenuti, G Canale, G Garcia, M Bergamasco; L Orquera (K Burton, 58), F Semenzato; A Lo Cicero (S Perugini, 48), C Festuccia (L Ghiraldini, 48), M Castrogiovanni, S Dellape, C Del Fava, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt), R Barbieri (P Derbyshire, 58).
France M Medard; Y Huget, A Rougerie, Y Jauzion (D Traille, 71), V Clerc; F Trinh-Duc, M Parra; S Marconnet, W Servat, N Mas (L Ducalcon, 41); J Pierre, L Nallet (J Thion, 57); T Dusautoir (capt), S Chabal (I Harinordoquy, 57), J Bonnaire.
Referee B Lawrence (New Zealand).
Attendance 33,000.Reuse content