France to face England in Nations Cup final
MATCH REPORT: A three-try blitz helped France convincingly beat Italy 36-5 in Paris to top Group B.
The win sees France set up a clash with England to decide the destination of the inaugural Nations Cup next weekend.
After a week that saw the untimely death of French rugby legend Christophe Dominici aged just 48, an emotionally-charged Les Bleus knew that if they could avoid defeat against a side they had beaten in each of the last nine meetings, they would face the Red Rose for the silverware at Twickenham on Finals Weekend.
Quotas on the number of autumn international appearances France players are permitted meant Fabien Galthie was forced into 13 changes from the side that beat Scotland – including blooding five debutants in the starting XV.
And the game was in the balance after a disjointed first half with Carlo Canna’s try for the Azzurri cancelled out by Jonathan Danty dotting down on his first international appearance since June 2016.
But France pulled away in the space of eight minutes after the break as, with Italy reduced to 14 men, Gabin Villiere showed the pace that made him a success in sevens to cross the whitewash before Baptiste Serin and Teddy Thomas also touched down, while Sekou Macalou added a fifth try at the death.
— rugby365.com (@rugby365com) November 28, 2020
A trip to London now awaits Les Bleus and if they can beat in-form England they will become the first-ever Nations Cup winners, while Italy will look to end an eight-game losing streak when they face the team that finishes third in Group A in the 5th/6th-place play-off.
A minute’s silence in memory of Dominici preceded the game, while there was also a ‘Merci Domi’ memorial to him in the Stade de France stands after an emotional week for everyone involved with French rugby.
The day was also a special occasion for Nigel Owens, as he became the first referee to officiate 100 international matches and was presented with a commemorative whistle ahead of the game.
On the pitch, Les Bleus made the perfect start as Mathieu Jalibert slotted a second-minute penalty from about 40 metres out but after that, both sides exchanged jabs without landing a decisive blow for the remainder of the first quarter.
On 24 minutes however, Italy got a breakthrough as they hammered at the France defence in the 22 before Paolo Garbisi threw a beautiful dummy, made a line break and then produced a one-handed offload to the supporting Canna to touch down.
That sparked the hosts into life and they responded with a try of their own before half-time when Danty did his best Mathieu Bastareaud impression from five metres out, powerfully driving through an attempted Garbisi tackle to dot down his first international try.
Trulla’s sin-bin changes the game
At 10-5, the game was in the balance but Les Bleus took a big step towards victory in the space of eight minutes midway through the second half.
Firstly, Italy wing Jacopo Trulla was sent to the sin-bin for a deliberate knock-on – seemingly making a genuine attempt to intercept a pass but the fact he went with one hand left referee Owens little choice.
France immediately took advantage as they stole an Italian lineout and Toulon speedster Villiere scored a try that the great Dominici himself would have been proud of, speeding between tacklers on the left flank and sprinting over the whitewash.
They then got two further tries before Trulla returned – firstly a mighty driving maul ended with Serin at the bottom of the pile for the score and then full-back Brice Dulin made a break before passing outside to Thomas, who sprinted clear down the right wing for the bonus-point try.
Those 19 points accrued while the Azzurri were down to 14 men ultimately took the game away from the visitors and Macalou then powered over with the last play of the game to make the final score 36-5, as attention now turns to the winner-takes-all clash against England next Sunday.
Tries: Danty, Villiere, Serin, Thomas, Macalou
Cons: Jalibert 3, Carbonel
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Anthony Jelonch, 7 Sekou Macalou, 6 Cameron Woki, 5 Baptiste Pesenti, 4 Killian Geraci, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 1 Rodrigue Neti
Replacements: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Hassane Kolignar, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Cyril Cazeaux, 20 Swan Rebbadj, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Louis Carbonel, 23 Yoram Moefana
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi; 14 Jacopo Trulla, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Luca Sperandio; 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Marcello Violi; 8 Braam Steyn, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 5 Niccolo Cannone, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Giosue Zilocchi, 2 Luca Bigi (captain), 1 Danilo Fischetti
Replacements: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Simone Ferrari, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Cristian Stoian, 20 Michele Lamaro, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Federico Mori
Referee: Nigel Owens
Assistant referees: Matthew Carley, Mike Adamson
TMO: Sam Grove-White