Italy 14-25 France: Les Bleus finish Six Nations campaign on winning note
By Emma Thurston
Last Updated: 16/03/19 3:27pm
France finished their Six Nations Championship on a winning note with a 25-14 victory over Italy in Rome.
Jacques Brunel's side showed a more clinical edge than their hosts with Damian Penaud adding a touch of gloss late on after valiant Italian resistance and character throughout.
Despite going into the game with a ten-match losing streak on the road in the tournament, Les Bleus led 10-6 at half-time. Antoine Dupont's try and the boot of Romain Ntamack cancelled out two Tommaso Allan penalties.
The second half was a game of cat-and-mouse with France edging ahead before Italy continually struck back, believing they could take the win.
France's cushion sat at 17-14 with just over a quarter to play before Ntamack's drop-goal gave them further breathing space.
The space was required as Italy pressed constantly in the closing stages. With six minutes to play centre Marco Zanon fumbled the ball whilst grounding before Penaud, who had made the try-saving tackle on Zanon, raced away for France's final try.
The first points had come after Felix Lambey went straight off his feet at ruck-time. Allan calmly stepped up to the tee and opened Italy's account.
Allan doubled that advantage six minutes later after his forwards pulverised the French scrum at the first opportunity.
Les Bleus responded after excellent work with ball in hand. Medard and Penaud both offloaded well to ensure that Antoine Dupont could accelerate over. Romain Ntamack added the conversion and another penalty to create a 10-point tally.
On the 22-minute marker, Italy turned down a kickable penalty and went for the corner - something that would become a theme of the half. As they continued to go for the corner, opportunities went begging including new cap Zanon seeing the ball bounce out of his reach off the post.
At 10-6 down, the Azzurri changed tact straight after the break and their first penalty saw Allan step up and get them back to within touching distance.
France's second try - scored by Huget - and Ntamack's conversion plumped Les Bleus' cushion back to eight at 17-9 but Italy showed their character to again respond.
Tito Tebaldi's first international try in 32 matches arrived from close-range. The conversion attempt was missed and they remained 17-14 down with just over a quarter to play.
Ntamack sensibly kept France's scoreboard ticking with a drop-goal while Italy missed yet another scoring opportunity with another knock-on over the line.
With nine minutes to go, France went down to 14 men. Camille Chat, who had replaced captain Guilhem Guirado early in the first half, saw yellow for collapsing a maul in the red zone.
Italy's pressure on their visitors stayed strong and a first Six Nations victory under Conor O'Shea looked like it had arrived with five minutes to go. Zanon used the extra space to fly over the line, but Penaud's outstanding tackle dislodged the ball and denied a dream moment for the 21-year-old
To rub salt into Italy's wounds, Penaud was the man to race away in the final moments and make sure of secure France's victory.