France down Italy in scrappy encounter

France claimed their first win of the 2018 Six Nations, defeating Italy 34-17 at the Orange Vélodrome on Friday night.

Les Bleus squandered several chances in the first half. However, after going into the break with a narrow 11-7 advantage, they wore Italy down and eventually put some daylight between themselves and the Azzurri in the second half.

France came into the match under pressure after narrow defeats to Ireland and Scotland. However, it only took five minutes for Les Bleus to draw first blood. Following an attacking lineout, they forced their way over the try-line, with Paul Gabrillagues grounding the ball.

But Italy hit back from an attacking lineout of their own and were awarded a penalty try in the 13th minute after the hosts collapsed the maul.

After a lengthy spell of pressure, France finally regained the lead in the 29th minute, with Maxime Machenaud slotting over a penalty won for offside right under the posts.

Back from a three-week ban for a homophobic slur, Mathieu Bastareaud did well to rip the ball out of Italian hands on the stroke of half-time, leading to another French penalty and three more points for Machenaud.

France squandered a glorious chance to score right after the break. They found themselves with numbers out on the left, but with the try-line at their mercy, Lionel Beauxis swung the ball to nobody and the hosts knocked on.

Les Bleus did extend their lead through another Machenaud penalty in the 46th minute following a high tackle. However, Italy hit back within four minutes. Tommaso Allan nailed his first kick of the game after Sergio Parisse was taken out off the ball.

In the 60th minute, France finally scored their second try. They attacked down the left once more, with Hugo Bonneval passing to Rémy Grosso out wide. The winger offloaded back inside to the full-back as he was forced into touch and Bonneval finished off with ease.

Four minutes later, Nicola Quaglio was penalised for offside. Machenaud stepped up to the kicking tee once more and extended the lead to two converted tries.

The scrum-half's last contribution before being substituted off for Baptiste Couilloud came in the 71st minute, when he popped his fifth penalty of the night over after France failed to make the most of an advantage.

In the 73rd minute, Bastareaud put the game to bed. After Marco Tauleigne had charged through the Azzurri defence to initiate the attack, the centre was left to finish the job from close range. He duly obliged, powering over the try-line.

With less than two minutes left on the clock, Italy scored a consolation try. Following a set play, they moved the ball out to the left and breezed through the French defence. Matteo Minozzi finished off the move.

However, the game ended in tears for the Azzurri as Luca Bigi was yellow carded for a deliberate knock-on in the dying seconds. France were unable to force their way over for one final try, but they nevertheless claimed a comfortable win.

The scorers:

For France:
Tries: Gabrillagues, Bonneval, Bastareaud
Cons: Machenaud, Trinh-Duc
Pens: Machenaud 5

For Italy:
Tries: Penalty try, Minozzi
Con: Canna
Pen: Allan
Yellow Card: Bigi

France: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Rémy Grosso, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelissié, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Kélian Galletier, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Gaël Fickou

Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali 19 George Biagi, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward

Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)