MARSEILLE, France (AP) — France ended an eight-game winless streak with a scrappy 34-17 win against Italy in the Six Nations on Friday.
Fortunately for a French side bereft of confidence and reeling from disciplinary problems, Italy posed a limited threat. For a better side would have heavily punished multiple sloppy errors from the Tricolors.
France coach Jacques Brunel did his best to take positives from a largely insipid performance.
“I’m satisfied with the win, especially with the commitment and the determination we showed,” he said. “It wasn’t easy, especially in the first half. We were too slack. We lacked precision.”
Captain Guilhem Guirado has long berated his teammates for conceding prolific penalties. The advice has yet to be absorbed. Also yet again, France wasted strong phases with clumsy knock-ons and fumbles to give Italy easy reprieves.
“We’re happy with the win but not how we played. It’s quite blatant that either we drop the ball or the support is too slow in coming,” Guirado said.
He used an expletive to describe his team’s errant passing. “Either they’re (expletive) passes or they’re too slow. We know what we have to do, because against a team like England or Wales this won’t work.”
They are France’s next two opponents, home and away, and on this evidence neither has anything to fear.
France’s tries came from lock Paul Gabrillagues early on, fullback Hugo Bonneval on the hour mark and center Mathieu Bastareaud late on. Scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud landed 17 points, his goalkicks keeping Italy at bay before flagging fitness levels told in the last 20 minutes.
Gabrillagues put France on the board after six minutes from a well-worked rolling maul.
Italy responded only minutes later. Flanker Maxime Mbanda thought he had a try from a 10-meter rolling maul but referee Wayne Barnes ruled the ball was not grounded. Then after consulting the television match official, he spotted a France infringement and awarded a penalty try. Italy led 7-5.
By halftime, Machenaud slotted two penalties and France led by a slender 11-7.
Butterfingers continued after the break when center Geoffrey Doumayrou dropped an easy pass from flyhalf Lionel Beauxis with the line in sight.
After Machenaud’s third penalty kick, France inevitably gave away another penalty and flyhalf Tommaso Allan’s shot kept Italy within striking range at 14-10.
Finally, the Stade Velodrome crowd had something to cheer about as Bastareaud made a hole in the Italian line and left winger Remy Grosso sent Bonneval scampering down the left for a converted try.
With Italy tiring, Bastareaud bulldozed over the line for another converted score, but poor French defending allowed Italy fullback Matteo Minozzi in for a last-gasp converted try.
France’s first win in 11 months came despite the suspension of several players for going on a drinking spree after the loss to Scotland two weeks ago.
“Those players aren’t banned indefinitely,” Brunel said. “But they will be left out so long as those who replaced them keep playing well.”
Italy’s third loss in three matches extended its losing streak in the championship to a record 15.