A daft afternoon here left the French with two fresh additions to an already cluttered injury list, and possibly looking for a new captain.
David Bory broke a rib and Nicolas Jeanjean tore a hamstring, but Olivier Magne's wound was self-inflicted. The Montferrand flanker's back-row tussle with the magnificent Mauro Bergamasco was a highlight in a match full of lows, but Magne appeared to stamp on an opponent at a ruck in the first half and faces a ban of between three and 26 weeks.
Roger Pickering, the chief executive of the Six Nations, confirmed that the independent citing commissioner, Matt Bayliss of the Rugby Football Union, had 48 hours in which to review video evidence of the incident. Magne, who was not penalised by the referee, Alan Lewis, was cited and suspended for three weeks after head-butting Scotland's Stuart Reid two years ago, and Wales and England – France's next two opponents – will be among those keeping a keen eye on developments.
Neither did Italy have their problems to seek. They lost four men to the sin-bin in a 40-minute spell spanning half-time – with the addition of France's David Auradou, it added up to a Test record five yellow cards – to disfigure a performance that was none too attractive to begin with.
John Kirwan, Italy's backs coach, claimed that the Italians were not wantonly killing the ball, but rather the victims of Lewis not knowing the difference between speed of movement and blatant offside, but that argument is wearing thin. "The players we lost [in the sin-bin] were in key positions," Kirwan said, "so it was pretty hard to attack. We spent a lot of time in defence and that means you haven't the energy to burn in attack. I don't know how many passes the French dropped but I give the credit to our defence who was advancing and putting pressure on them."
France's defensive coach, David Ellis, asked what he thought of Italy's tactics, had a one-word answer: "Offside." Admittedly, when a flanker of the class of Bergamasco is going about his business, the lines of offside are liable to be blurred. Time and again the Italian No 7 was upon Frédéric Michalak before the 19-year-old scrum-half could say "Inspector Clouseau", which was the name that sprung to mind when most of the French backs' moves broke down in disaster.
So the renaissance of French back play is on hold. Aurélien Rougerie was not so much the French Lomu as reminiscent of M Hulot on holiday. When Paolo Vaccari was turned over in the France's 22 in the second half, one suspected that Les Bleus of five or 10 years ago would have swept upfield to score rather than spill the ball at the vital moment.
Italy's coach, Brad Johnstone, is to be joined by a third New Zealander on the coaching staff, Mark Graham, to take the forwards, while an Australian, Tim Lane, is being lined up for a defensive role. Time will tell if this is the beginning of the end for Johnstone.
Curiously, the crowd, which only three-quarters filled the stadium, greeted the final whistle with something approaching an appreciative ovation. Apart from Damien Traille's through-the-gap try just before half-time, and Serge Betsen's score in the final seconds, there had seemed only a goal-kicking exhibition from Gérald Merceron and Diego Dominguez to get excited about.
FRANCE: N Jeanjean (Toulouse); A Rougerie (Montferrand), T Marsh (Montferrand), D Traille (Pau), D Bory (Montferrand); G Merceron (Montferrand), F Michalak (Toulouse); J-J Crenca (Agen), Y Bru (Toulouse), P de Villiers (Stade Français), D Auradou (Stade Français), T Privat (Béziers), S Betsen (Biarritz), S Hall (Béziers), O Magne (Montferrand, capt). Replacements: R Ibanez (Castres) for Bru 58; F Pelous (Toulouse) for Auradou 58; A Albouy (Castres) for Michalak 80; X Garbajosa (Toulouse) for Jeanjean 51.
ITALY: P Vaccari (Calvisano); D Dallan (Treviso), L Martin (Northampton/Bedford), A Stoica (Castres), R Pedrazzi (Viadana); D Dominguez (Stade Français), A Troncon (Montferrand); A lo Cicero (Toulouse), A Moscardi (Treviso, capt), A Muraro (Padova), C Checchinato (Treviso), S Dellape (Viadana), Mauro Bergamasco (Treviso), M Phillips (Viadana), M Bortolami (Padova). Replacements: G de Carli (Calvisano) for Lo Cicero 28-31, 56; Mirco Bergamasco (Padova) for Pedrazzi 46-48; A Moreno (Worcester) for Muraro 56; Mirco Bergamasco for Vaccari 71; M Giacheri (Sale) for Dellape 78; A Persico (Viadana) for Mauro Bergamasco 80.
Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).Reuse content