Italy say 'merci' to Masi after historic victory

Phil Cadden
Sunday 13 March 2011 01:00 GMT
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Italy created Six Nations history with their first Championship victory over France in a thrilling contest in Rome. Mirco Bergamasco, the Racing Métro wing, scored 17 points, including a 76th-minute penalty from the left touchline that won the match, and the full-back Andrea Masi scored a second-half try. The Azzurri held on through two minutes of injury time – and two re-set attacking scrums for France – to beat the 2010 Grand Slam winners.

Vincent Clerc and Morgan Parra scored tries for France but their hopes of retaining the title have disappeared and their head coach, Marc Lièvremont, will see his position calledinto question.

The final whistle sparked wild celebrations among the home fans. Nick Mallett, the Italy coach, said: "It is an amazing achievement and I'm really proud of my players.

"We played really well against Ireland and Wales but it is a huge achievement to beat a good French side who have played in two World Cup finals and always thrashed us in the last five years. We had lost three games in a row but things can change quickly. I have stuck with the players for three years and we have been improving all the time. This is a great day for Italian rugby and our supporters and I don't think I will get a lot of sleep."

Mallett had feared that his contract would not be extended beyond the World Cup, in New Zealand later this year. Many will now feel that the South African should be given a job for life.

His Italy team got off to the perfect start in glorious sunshine when the experienced Bergamasco, who was winning his 80th cap, kicked a routine penalty in front of the posts after the France captain, Thierry Dusautoir, had been called for offside.

France produced an excellent riposte, as Clerc opened the try-scoring in the 14th minute. Aurélien Rougerie found the wing in space on the left and he produced a superb chip and chase to beat Gonzalo Canale in a foot race to touch down for his first Test try in 16 months.

Moments later, Rougerie should have scored but he dropped the ball with the line at his mercy after neat work by François Trinh-Duc, the fly-half. Parra, the scrum-half, had missed a conversion but he kicked a penalty after the French displayed their superiority in the scrum.

Italy cut the deficit to 8-6 with Bergamasco's second penalty before Parra missed again. He then found his range with a penalty on 46 minutes to put France five points clear, and Lièvremont's men appeared to kill off the Italian resistance when Parra took Trinh-Duc's inside pass and fended off Masi and Leonardo Ghiraldini to score at the posts. Parra converted and then Bergamasco missed twice.

But Italy were given a lifeline just shy of the hour when Masi scored in the left corner from Fabio Semenzato's pass, seconds after Tommaso Benvenuti had failed to find Gonzalo Garcia on his inside. Bergamasco converted and then saw a 65th-minute penalty cancelled out by Parra's long-range reply. But, after cutting France's lead to two points with 10 minutes left, Bergamasco's sixth penalty put his team into the history books.

Italy's captain, the No 8 Sergio Parisse, said: "I would like to dedicate this victory to Nick because he is the only coach who has believed in us."

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 A Del Fava, A Zanni, S Parisse (capt), R Barbieri (P Derbyshire, 58).

France: M Médard; 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).

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