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France stay on course for grand slam with bonus-point win over Italy | Sport


Romain Ntamack raced in the bonus-point score in Paris as France laboured to a patchy 35-22 victory over Italy.

The Toulouse fly-half endured a mixed afternoon, struggling with his goal-kicking in strong winds caused by Storm Ciara. But the 20-year-old came good for Les Bleus’ fourth score, as Fabien Galthié’s men made it two wins from two to join Ireland as the only other team with a 100% record in the competition.

Teddy Thomas, Charles Ollivon, Grégory Alldritt, Ntamack and Baptiste Serin all crossed for the French, who coasted to victory despite several phases of wayward attacking play.

Wasps’ electric wing Matteo Minozzi, hooker Federico Zani and Mattia Bellini bagged tries for the battling Azzurri, but Franco Smith’s side still slipped to a 24th straight Six Nations loss.

France have not won the Six Nations since their 2010 grand slam, but hopes will now be high that the drought can come to an end. Galthié’s side will face a strong test of their title credentials when heading to Wales on 22 February though. Factor in the return of defence coach Shaun Edwards to his old Principality Stadium stomping ground, and that encounter will doubtless prove pivotal to the tournament.

And Paul Willemse has warned France will need to cut out their indiscipline to stay in the hunt. The South Africa-born lock lamented Les Bleus’ errant showing and admitted they must sharpen up, especially without the ball.

“It was definitely a bit frustrating against Italy, we got what we wanted with the bonus point so we’re happy with that,” Willemse told BBC Sport.

“But our performance, a lot of errors especially discipline wise, so we’ve got to fix that as quickly as possible.

“Our previous game it wasn’t a big thing, so we definitely want to fix that as quickly as possible, it’s not normal for us to have so many penalties. But that will definitely be a focus in the weeks to come to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Les Bleus bludgeoned into early control, Thomas racing in after neat build-up. Ollivon then doubled the hosts’ try count, punching over the line from short range.

Minozzi then capped a fine 13-phase move with a morale-boosting score for the Azzurri and Tommaso Allan’s penalty just shy of the half-hour hauled Italy into touching distance at 13-10 down, but the visitors could not muster enough of a comeback to alter the outcome.

The France No 8 Alldritt cantered home having lurked on the left wing and been duly furnished with a superb floated pass from Antoine Dupont to leave France leading 23-10 at the break.

A largely forgettable third quarter came and went without incident, before France sealed the bonus point.

Italy’s first-half rally had long evaporated when Ntamack bisected the visiting defence and Les Bleus’ fourth.

Zani registered for Italy however, dotting the ball against the base of the post for the Azzurri’s second try.

Again the Italians were unable to make good on any kind of comeback though, and the replacement half-back Serin scored with a sharp quick-tap try.

Italy managed the last word, with Bellini scampering home after Jayden Hayward’s break. But France roll on to Cardiff.


Photograph: Ben Evans/Rex Features

Italy’s captain, Luca Bigi, maintained his side are moving in the right direction under their new coach Smith, despite another frustrating defeat.

“We showed how strong we can be in attack,” he said. “We never gave up and that’s a positive. The guys on the pitch showed great face on the pitch today.

“It was a tough week because we conceded so many turnovers at the breakdown last week. We conceded too many penalties in the first half even though we were better.

“We have to keep the positives from this game. It’s important that we scored at the end and we’ll keep to the positives for the Scotland game.”

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