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By Mark Bendeich
ROME, March 11 (Reuters) - France beat Italy 40-18 to hand them the Six Nations wooden spoon on Saturday and leave their hosts with the prospect of a second straight tournament without a victory.
The French played below their best to triumph in perfect conditions at Stadio Olimpico, running through a soft defence to score four tries and collect a bonus point.
Backs Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa and Brice Dulin scored a try each for France, with number eight Louis Picamoles also crossing the chalk, but France could have scored more. Flyhalf Camille Lopez was flawless with the boot, amassing 20 points.
For Italy, captain Sergio Parisse scored in the third minute and Angelo Esposito on the final siren, but their downfall lay in a defence that was almost non-existent at times. Italy missed more than 50 tackles as France burst through their line at will.
"We are happy with the result but there are a lot of things that we need to do (to improve)," French coach Guy Noves said.
For Italy's new coach, Irishman and former Harlequins coaching director Conor O'Shea, the unexpected joy of beating former world champions South Africa just four months ago has been forgotten in a series of glum post-match press conferences.
Italy have not won a single point in the tournament with one game, against Scotland, to play. They are destined to pick up their 12th wooden spoon in 17 years playing Six Nations.
Italy have made some strong starts this tournament, going into the changing rooms ahead against Wales and England, but the second half has too often turned into a nightmare that O'Shea puts down in large measure to fitness and mental toughness.
Of the 172 points Italy have conceded in four matches, 120 of them have been scored in the second half.
O'Shea, who took over the team last June, said Italy's Six Nations opponents were playing at a higher level and that it would take two to three years to close the gap.
"We have started out on a long, long, hard road but with perseverance and hard work we will get there," he said. (Reporting by Mark Bendeich; Editing by Rex Gowar)