rugby

France overcomes sluggish start to beat Italy in Six Nations

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The Canadian Press
2/9/2014 12:27:42 PM
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PARIS -- Centre Wesley Fofana scored one try and helped create another as France beat Italy 30-10 on Sunday to further boost its chances of winning the Six Nations title following last weekend's dramatic victory against England.

Last year's wooden spoon is now just a bad memory for France, with Sunday's convincing win following the 26-24 success against England -- further raising hopes ahead of a crunch match against title-holder Wales.

A turgid first half riddled with poor kicking ended 9-3. But France scored three tries inside the first 15 minutes of the second half through burly No. 8 Louis Picamoles, Fofana and a debut try from left-winger Hugo Bonneval, whose father Eric Bonneval helped France win three Five Nations titles.

"We haven't won two matches in a row since 2012, so that's important," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "We wore the Italians out a lot in the first half, even though we didn't vary our play enough. In the second half we played very, very good rugby. We went from 9-3 to 30-3 in no time at all."

Right-winger Tommaso Iannone got a late converted try for Italy, which has lost twice and next hosts winless Scotland at home. The loser of that match is set for the wooden spoon, while a victory in Cardiff will have the French dreaming of an unexpected Grand Slam.

After losing on its last two visits to Rome, they were determined to make amends at Stade de France.

But in chilly, somewhat windy conditions, only the sharp bite of the weather prevented the fans from falling asleep in a scrappy opening half bereft of attacking rugby, and where four out of 10 kicking opportunities were taken.

Scrumhalf Jean-Marc Doussain missed two penalties and flyhalf Jules Plisson was wide with a dropped goal attempt. Italy got its first chance when lock Pascal Pape was penalized for an offside and centre Gonzalo Garcia's penalty from just over the halfway line fell short.

With the forwards' battle pretty even, Italy had another chance to take the lead midway through the first half, but this time Garcia's kick from nearly the same distance sailed wide.

After fullback Brice Dulin was held up near the line, Doussain slotted over from just in front of the posts, but Italy levelled through flyhalf Tommaso Allan's three-pointer from 20 metres out, but he then missed a similar chance.

After Italy collapsed the scrum, Doussain's kick cannoned over off the right post and he landed a better effort to put France 9-3 up.

Then, the tries came thick and fast.

"It's a strange feeling, because for 60 or 70 minutes we were close to France's level and at times even got on top," Italy coach Jacques Brunel said. "But those 10 minutes or so (in the second half) totally changed the game."

Picamoles burst out of a rolling maul and was brilliantly tackled by left-winger Leonardo Sarto close to the line. He then hauled himself up before planting the ball on the line, and the try was awarded following a video replay, with Doussain getting the extras.

Fofana showed once again why he is one of the most promising centres in world rugby. Picking up a loose ball following a ruck, he broke two tackles with brute strength before sprinting down the blindside for a converted score.

"He's an exceptional player. He scored an incredible try and he has the ability to break tackles," Saint-Andre said. "We ask Wesley to talk a lot on the field, and we have a young generation who are starting to assert themselves."

The third try was well worked.

Fofana's scorching pace took him clear from midfield, and he fed right-winger Yoann Huget, who in turn popped a simple pass to give Bonneval a try in the left corner. Doussain landed a tricky conversion to make it 30-3.

As tempers frayed, props Rabah Slimani and Michele Rizzo were sent off after butting heads in a maul.

Italy's persistence finally paid off when Iannone scurried into the left corner.

Wesley Fofana  (Photo: The Canadian Press)

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(Photo: The Canadian Press)
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