Impressive Azzurri defeat France 23-18 in Rome
An impressive Italy side led by captain Sergio Parisse and fly-half Luciano Orquera shocked a lacklustre France team in front of 60,000 enthusiastic fans in Rome on Sunday in a superb performance.
Playing in the Stadio Olimpico in front of a huge crowd, the confident Italians took the game to the French from the kick-off. Luciano Orquera noticed a gap in the French defensive line and quickly took advantage, bursting through before committing his defender and releasing captain Parisse for a try in the 5th minute.
Orquera in particular was running the show in the early stages of the match, converting the try and distributing with ease. But a French reaction was to be expected, and was provided by third row Louis Picamoles, who concluded a long period of play by powering past Parisse and full-back Andrea Masi in the 12th minute.
Seemingly in the ascendancy, France nevertheless gradually lost its footing, giving away two penalties that the reliable Orquera once again converted to give Italy a 13-5 lead with only 25 minutes played.
Once again France reacted. Full-back Yoann Huget found a way through the defence but was held up by a committed Italian defence which forbade Huget from turning his body around and planting the ball past the try line. After review from the TMO, referee Nigel Owens rightly decided to refuse the try but Michalak kicked a penalty to make it 13-8.
The French had been intermittently dangerous, but they finally came to the fore as the first half neared its end. France finally deployed a bit of their infamous French flair as Fritz and Huget combined in the centre of the park, passing the ball out of contact to a rushing Benjamin Fall to easily score a try in between the posts. Fly-half Frederic Michalak then converted and France reached the half-time break with a 15-13 lead. Italy had the right to feel hard done by after a first half of superb intensity and enthusiasm.
The match started again with the same energy, but France seemed to take the upper hand as a Michalak penalty in the 50th gave them a five point cushion. Scrum-half Machenaud then produced a superb break which cut open the Italian defence, but a lack of support produced a turnover, from which a rampant Italy scored a try through the inspirational Castrogiovanni after a 90 yard counter-attack and a glorious pass from Orquera.
France had missed their chance, and Italy sensed that victory was within their grasp. Orquera’s conversion gave the dynamic Azzurri a two point lead at 20-18 and the confidence needed to see the game out.
Unorganised, lacking in creativity, and facing a ferocious defence, France just simply could not find the solution in the last 20 minutes. Orquera had made way to Burton by then, but the replacement fly-half kicked a decisive drop goal twelve minutes from time to leave France needing a try to at least draw the match.
It was now a battle of wills. Italy, so often let down in the past by their substitutes and their inability to play the full 80 minutes at the highest level, were once again led by their brilliant captain Sergio Parisse. After handling the impressive Picamoles for most of the game, the Azzurri talisman was now leading his side’s defence with his aura and determination.
Despite a late flurry by the French, Parisse and his team-mates put up a wall of white shirts, well aided in their fight by the cries of 60,000 Italian fans voicing their approval at their side’s gutsy performance.
As Fall finally knocked the ball on despite a last raid by the French, the Italians, in total communion with their supporters, could finally celebrate a famous victory. Jacques Brunel’s side has now finally established themselves as a serious force in world rugby with this win. As for the French, disappointment must now push them to finally produce. An expectant crowd awaits them at the Stade de France next week in Paris.
Baptiste Reynaud, sports correspondent
Italy 23-18 France