France outgun Italy in thrilling encounter

Guinness Six Nations

France 35-22 Italy

Fabien Galthié’s young gun France flew to the top of the Championship table in a superbly-entertaining exhibition of attacking rugby against defiant Italy.

With moody conditions in Paris some feared a close-quarters battle, tell that to Galthié and Franco Smith, with both sides fully committed to attack throughout the 80.

Eight tries were scored in all, France’s five winning the day 35-22 but the Stade de France crowd delighted by moment after moment of classy attack.

Crucially, France’s flying start – Teddy Thomas and Charles Ollivon both over inside 18 minutes – was never relinquished, but the excellent Azzurri skipper Luca Bigi led an almighty fightback, Federico Zani on with a late score that had the home crowd nervy at 28-17.

Enter Baptiste Serin to settle affairs, the replacement No.9 incredibly collecting his own chip through to seal the bonus-point win in style – talk of a first French title since 2010 grows a little louder.

France’s Gregory Alldritt celebrates scoring their third try.

With La Marseillaise reverberating in their ears France flew into the opening minutes with full-blooded force, that rapid new line-speed evident from the off and Romain Ntamack slotting a penalty three minutes in.

More class from Ntamack’s boot would follow, France attacking at all angles until their fly-half found the telling one with a perfectly-measured grubber for Thomas to touch down one-handed.

Over to the forwards, Antoine Dupont darting left with a superb inside ball earning more yards, several crunching Italian hits coming in but none able to stop Ollivon in the corner – the openside now joint-top tryscorer with Josh Adams on three.

Undeterred, Italy found their first spell of concerted pressure at the beginning of the second quarter and after a couple of Tommaso Allan half-breaks Jayden Hayward passed out to Matteo Minozzi – the 2018 Player of the Championship nominee predatorially diving into the corner.

After one Azzurri score another soon followed, Allan trading penalties with Ntamack for Les Bleus to lead 16-10 as the interval approached.

Italy’s Matteo Minozzi scores a try despite the efforts of France’s Teddy Thomas.

Still time for one more attack, the excellent Dupont leading it once more with a mazy run into the 22 and a few phases later fizzing a wonderful miss-pass out to the waiting Grégory Alldritt – the petit general simply unplayable.

France led 23-10 at half-time and Italy continued to show proficiency in attacking out wide on the resumption of play, twice skipping away down the left but Mattia Bellini not able to finish down the opposite flank.

Penalties kicked to the corner led France deep into the opposition 22 but Italy repelled them with two excellent lineout turnovers, a third wobbly home lineout carrying the Azzurri up to the other end.

When the pressure mounted France stepped up, right on the hour as a lovely sweeping move saw 20-year-old Ntamack weaving over next to the posts and beating his chest wildly in celebration of the bonus-point score.

Italy would not lie down, dominating the ball until Zani could burrow over on 65 minutes, the game still very much in the balance until Serin’s stunner six minutes from time left Bellini’s late riposte a mere consolation.

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