A happy homecoming for France's World Cup runners-up and Six Nations favourites, with four tries to none against an Italian side betrayed by their inability to finish in promising positions. Both teams were under new management, and if the French made a predictable winning start to the 2012 Championship there was enough in the Azzurri effort to suggest they will be tricky hosts when England go to Rome's Olympic Stadium next Saturday.
It must be said, though, that the way they conceded tries in the 22nd and 35th minutes, either side of a penalty by the visiting fly-half Kris Burton in addition to his earlier drop, would have encouraged any attack, English or otherwise. First a free-kick after a scrum was tapped by Louis Picamoles, the Toulouse No 8 who has an extraordinary propensity to appear to be trundling forward while moving at high pace and with destructive power. In a blur of hands Aurélien Rougerie, at centre, found himself facing the front-rowers Andrea lo Cicero and Leonardo Ghiraldini, and, not surprisingly, ran between them, untouched, for Dimitri Yachvili to convert. The scrum-half had begun the scoring with a penalty after 11 minutes.
Then an Italian scrum, though solid enough on French ball, was nudged into retreat while taking Edoardo Gori's put-in, the French stole the ball and Picamoles went up the short side from his 10-metre line before feeding Julien Malzieu, who handed off three would-be tacklers and stepped inside the full-back, Andrea Masi, in some utterly feeble Italian defence.
If it had not been for the finger-numbing cold the Stade de France might have been more en fête, particularly for the 10 Frenchmen who had started the single-point World Cup final defeat by New Zealand in Auckland three-and-a-half months ago.
Since then both France and Italy have changed head coaches – Marc Lièvremont to Philippe Saint-André; Nick Mallett to Jacques Brunel – but the match followed a familiar pattern in this transalpine derby, or at least the Parisian version of it (Italy won, famously, in Rome last year). From 15-6 up at half-time, France had two tries in the second half, including a first on his Test debut for the Clermont Auvergne centre Wesley Fofana. The Paris-born midfielder of Malian descent is a little Ma'a Nonu-esque in his ability to brush past substantial shoulders; he has a sinewy sidestep too, an eye for a try and wonderfully soft hands. This last quality, you could say, made France, all in white, a kitchen-paper team: soft, strong and highly absorbent. Italy threw plenty at them, eschewing their old, boring, round-the-corner style, but it was all mopped up.
Burton missed a penalty then kicked one in the 47th minute before Yachvili, likewise, missed one and kicked one for 18-9. The killer blow came after 53 minutes. François Trinh-Duc, the fly-half revealed in Lièvremont's new autobiography to have viewed himself as unfairly picked on when dropped by the former coach during the World Cup, chipped and chased; he hacked on with his heel, Rougerie added a left knee and Vincent Clerc did the rest with his hands to score his 32nd try in 58 Tests. The crowd giggled; Yachvili converted.
Burton's replacement, Tobias Botes, kicked a penalty for offside as France's back-row, led by the indefatigable captain Thierry Dusautoir, made one slamming tackle after another. The final try came from a line-out from a penalty conceded for pulling down a maul by Quintin Geldenhuys, who went to the sin-bin. A couple of midfield rucks made the space for Fofana to escape Luke McLean's clutches and round off the scoring.
An Italian attack in the last two minutes summed them up, as Marco Bortolami and Gonzalo Canale contrived to squander an opening.
Saint-André said: "We were happy with four tries and the defence was good but we didn't have enough of the ball and we need to improve our set-piece and be more aggressive in the ruck. We know if we want to beat Ireland we will have to step up a level. We need to be much, much better."
Dusautoir echoed the sentiment, saying: "We're happy to win by 30 points but we know it will be harder for us next week against Ireland."
France: M Medard; V Clerc (both Toulouse), A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu (all Clermont Auvergne); F Trinh-Duc (Montpellier), D Yachvili (Biarritz); V Debaty (Clermont Auvergne), W Servat (Toulouse), N Mas (Perpignon), P Pape (Stade Français), L Nallet (Racing Métro), T Dusautoir (capt), L Picamoles (both Toulouse), J Bonnaire (Clermont Auvergne).
Replacements: Y Maestri (Toulouse) for Nallet, 50; D Szarzewski (Stade Français) for Servat, 55; M Parra (Clermont Auvergne) for Yachvili, 62; J-B Poux (Toulouse) for Debaty, 62; I Harindordoquy (Biarritz) for Picamoles, 64; L Beauxis (Stade Toulousain) for Trinh-Duc, 75; M Mermoz (Perpignan) for Rougerie, 75; Debaty for Mas, 75.
Italy: A Masi; G Venditti (both Aironi), T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi;L McLean; K Burton, E Gori (all Treviso); A lo Cicero (Racing Métro), L Ghiraldini (Treviso), M Castrogiovanni (Leicester), Q Geldenhuys (Aironi), C van Zyl, A Zanni (both Treviso), S Parisse (capt), R Barbieri (both Stade Français).
Replacements: T Botes (Treviso) for Burton, 56; M Bortolami(Aironi) for van Zyl, 56; L Cittadini (Treviso) for lo Cicero, 62; G Canale (Clermont) for Sgarbi, 65; S Favaro (Aironi) forBarbieri, 67; F Semenzato (Treviso) for Gori, 75; T D'Apice (Aironi) for Ghiraldini, 75;
Referee: N Owens (Wales).