ROME (Reuters) - A clinical performance from France condemned Italy to a 22nd consecutive Six Nations defeat with a 25-14 win at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday.
The Azzurri were already guaranteed the wooden spoon before kick-off but dominated large parts of the game and missed several opportunities to record their first Championship win since 2015.
Jacques Brunel’s side pounced on their chances and weathered the Italian storm in defence as they recorded a win that places them fourth in the table, four points above Scotland ahead of their Calcutta Cup clash with England at Twickenham later on Saturday.
Tries from Antoine Dupont and Yoann Huget either side of half-time gave France the advantage, but Italy pegged them back with Tito Tebaldi’s short-range score before Damian Penaud crossed the line late on to put the result beyond doubt.
It was another disappointing day for Italy coach Conor O’Shea, yet to collect a Six Nations victory since taking the job in 2016, and he was left exasperated by the outcome.
“Normally in a Test match it’s easy to remember two or three fundamental moments, but at the end of this match I think there were probably 11 or 12 opportunities that we’ve had,” he said.
“It’s very, very hard at the moment. We believe in everything we’re doing, we believe that this group has a different mentality.
“During the Six Nations we’ve been very close to the others at this level. Today, without looking at the ultimate result, if you look at the match, it’s incredible that we’ve lost. Our execution and precision was the difference today.”
Brunel, who led Italy for five years from 2011 to 2016, empathized with his former players.
“They have the ability, but it just wasn’t there today,” Brunel told the press after the game.
“From the start of the tournament they’ve shown a lot of presence, also in attack, of balance in their game.
“They’ve had a tournament of quality. They’ve not had the fortune to win a game, but they’ve shown quality.”
Two Tommaso Allan penalties put Italy in front early on, but scrum-half Dupont then raced under the posts for the first try following a loose Italian clearance kick before Romain Ntamack extended the French lead to four points from the kicking tee.
Italy responded by applying repeated pressure on the French defence and looked to have scored when Allan’s grubber kick sent debutant centre Marco Zanon racing towards a certain try, only for the ball to cruelly bounce back off the post.
Abraham Steyn appeared to have bundled the ball over the line only for a TMO review to rule it out as Italy failed to put more points on the board before the interval.
With the score on 10-6, Allan quickly reduced the deficit to one point from the tee but the French displayed their clinical edge when Huget finished a flowing move by touching down his fourth try of the Championship.
Italy responded through Tebaldi, who darted over from the back of a ruck, but Allan couldn’t put away the conversion after earlier pulling a penalty wide from in front of the posts.
Ntamack slotted a drop goal with just over a quarter of an hour remaining to put France six points in front, but Tebaldi thought he had got his second try when he made another dive for the line only for the TMO to show he had lost control of the ball.
Italy were still on the front foot and gained a man advantage when substitute hooker Camille Chat was sent to the sin bin with nine minutes remaining.
The home side’s patience looked to have finally paid off with five minutes to go when Zanon raced over with a smile on his face but they were again denied, the centre losing control of the ball as Penaud brilliantly dislodged the ball from his grasp.
Italy’s profligacy was further punished in the final minute when Penaud sprinted down the touchline and over the whitewash to put the result beyond doubt.
The result left the Italians at the bottom of the Six Nations table without a point, while France moved up to fourth on 10 points.
Reporting by Alasdair Mackenzie; editing by Tony Lawrence