Italy rue unlucky breaks

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The Independent Online

Having looked as if they were on a promise, April in Paris lost much of its romanticism for Italy at the Stade de France. A refereeing decision that was at best dubious, at worst a dereliction of duty, helped France complete their Six Nations with a victory over their neighbours that was greeted more with relief than anything else.

France, who had lost five matches in a row here, won by four goals, a try and three penalties to four goals and a drop goal but were decidedly non vintage. Since beating Scotland at the beginning of the championship, Italy have conceded more than 200 points, but they were desperately hard done by yesterday.

Not only did they have to endure a try that wasn't, at a critical phase in the first half, but they played much of the match without their flanker Walter Cristofoletto, who was sent off for stamping having already served time in the sin-bin.

The Italians, playing their first match in Paris since 1937 when Mussolini had yet to make an international name for himself, led 10-3 and then 17-10 before France, who looked a shadow of the side who so gloriously defeated the All Blacks in the World Cup, got a couple of lucky breaks that, arguably, turned the game.

In the 33rd minute Cristofoletto was shown the yellow card (it was either for disputing a decision or persistent offside) and France took immediate advantage. However, Emile Ntamack's kick ahead had reached the dead- ball line as Thomas Castaignÿde dived on the ball.

The Argentine referee Pablo Deluca awarded a try, although his view of the incident was by no means clear. It enabled France to go into a 20-17 lead at half-time and, suitably encouraged, they built on it in the second half.

Their cause was helped considerably by the decision of Cristofoletto in the 60th minute to indulge in a spot of tap dancing at a ruck. After consulting his Scottish touch judge Iain Ramage, the referee showed Cristofoletto the red card.

At that point France were ahead 30-17 and again they wasted no time in taking advantage of Italy's numerical deficiency. From a scrum Abdel Benazzi, who had come on as a replacement at half-time, took a reverse pass from Aubin Hueber and crashed over. A few minutes later Alain Penaud found a gap in midfield to help himself to a soft try and, with Richard Dourthe kicking everything on offer, the Tricolores were 42-17 in front.

Italy, far from retreating, finished their European adventure with tries from Nicola Mazzucato and the captain Alessandro Troncon. It only emphasised what might have been had they enjoyed the rub of the green.

Diego Dominguez, who converted all of his side's four tries, at least finished the match and his international career with a successful kick. The Argentine born stand-off, who was winning his 61st cap, is retiring from international rugby, though he will still play at club level for Stade Français.

Once again the Italian forwards were hugely impressive but the team do not have the experience to exploit possession that is so readily won. It is no wonder Brad Johnstone, Italy's New Zealand coach, has tried to dissuade Dominguez from hanging up the boots which have made him the third highest points scorer in the international game.

On a wet, miserable afternoon, Dominguez indulged in his forte with a drop goal to level the scores after Dourthe had kicked a penalty. This was after Dominguez had saved a try with an ankle tap on Castaignÿde and had himself been deprived of a try when he lost possession in a desperate lunge for the line.

Italy went ahead after 20 minutes, Luca Martin bursting through the fragile defence and beating off Castaignÿde's tackle to score at the posts. The centre nearly crossed again before France levelled with Penaud finding a great angle to wrong foot the Italian defence.

But Italy regained the lead in the 30th minute after a storming run from the outstanding Mauro Bergamasco had set up a ruck near the French posts and Troncon sold a dummy before diving over. At that point, leading 17-10 and with the crowd giving a fitful France the bird, Italy's luck not only ran out but changed sides.

At the end Dominguez was carried shoulder high from the pitch to receive a standing ovation from the hard core of Italian supporters. "All my life I will be very grateful for that reception," he said. "It has been a very difficult decision for me but over the last three or four years I seem to have been playing non stop."

France: T Castaignÿde (Castres); P Bernat-Salles (Biarritz), R Dourthe (Dax), E Ntamack (Toulouse), D Bory (Montferrand); A Penaud (Toulouse), A Hueber (Toulon); C Califano (Toulouse), M Dal Maso (Colomiers), F Tournaire (Toulouse), F Pelous (Toulouse, capt), O Brouzet (Bÿgles-Bordeaux), L Mallier (Brive), T Liévremont (Perpignan), O Magne (Montferrand). Replacements: D Venditti (Brive) for Bernat-Salles 25, R Ibanez (Perpignan) for Del Maso 40, A Benazzi (Agen) for Liévremont 40, H Miorin (Toulouse) for Brouzet 62, P De Villiers (Stade Français) for Tournaire 72, C Heymans (Agen) for Bory 72,

Italy: M Pini (Narbonne); N Mazzucato (Treviso), L Martin (Bÿgles-Bordeaux), N Zisti (Roma), C Stoica (Narbonne); D Dominguez (Stade Français), A Troncon (Montferrand, capt); A Lo Cicero (Roma), M Moscardi (Treviso), T Paoletti (Piacenza), C Cecchinato (Treviso), A Gritti (Treviso), W Cristofoletto (Stade Montois), A De Rossi (Livorno). Replacements: D Dallan (Treviso) for Zisti 56, W Visser (Treviso) for de Rossi 56, S Perugini (L'Aquila) for Paoletti 67, A Persico (Viadana) for Bergamasco 79.

Referee: P Deluca (Arg)