It took very little to call everything into question. That the World Cup (September 8 – October 28, 2023) suddenly seems far away… In Rome, the Blues trembled as rarely on Sunday against lively and courageous Italians, who very nearly created the sensation of this start to the Tournament by coming to die very close (24-29) to the defending champions, authors of the Grand Slam in 2022.
Slow start? Curious out of gas? How to explain such a scare when a summit in Dublin is looming in less than a week against the Irish at the top of the world rankings and impressive Welsh scorers on Saturday (10-34)? Perhaps, in part, by a frenzied start to the match which troubled Fabien Galthié’s players.
Like the public, who, at the time of the hymns, overtook the official fanfare, the actors indeed wanted to play faster than the music. Especially the Italians. Their rules of conduct? Send all the balls to the wing, multiply the passes. In a sense, they did well. Because the few times they used their feet, they offered caviars to the Blues. Thus, Thibaud Flament, the Toulouse second line, just stretched out his arms on a clearance from scrum half Stephen Varney to go and flatten twenty meters further. It was only the fifth minute (0-7)… And the Habs should have already scored a try on a counter by Thomas Ramos recovering a lost ball at the end of the line on the first attack of the Transalpins (2nd). His unsteady pass to Damian Penaud only delayed the deadline.
Clumsiness and indiscipline
Here, in two parts three movements, the scenario of this first act. The Italians, inflated with a brand new confidence found in their two successes, during the last Tournament in Wales (22-21) then during the autumn tour against Australia (28-27) and launched into a rugby attack beyond their means. Too imprecise, they multiplied the gifts.
Opposite, Tricolores capable of sustaining this pace but also quite clumsy and undisciplined (8 penalties against them in the first period) who took advantage of the precision at the foot of Romain Ntamack, author of two offerings, one on the wing of Penaud for the test of Ramos (19th), the other opposite side for that of Dumortier, the new kid (27th, 6-19).
It smelled of Roman strolling under a spring sun. It was quite the reverse. The Italians, stubborn in their ambitions, ended up breaking through the tricolor wall on a new wide attack and a dive from their new hero Ange Capuozzo (33rd). The grain of sand too much for the Blues. Because then, we no longer recognized the players of Fabien Galthié, overwhelmed by the speed and especially the desire of their opponents. Very far from their level of last season.
Substitutes as saviors
The defending champions, who set out to conquer a second Grand Slam in a row, a feat never achieved since the transition to six nations in 2000, emerged victorious from their last thirteen meetings, came very close to defeat. Overwhelmed in the game and in the score on a penalty try (62nd, 24-22), the teammates of Antoine Dupont, who died over the course of the match, had the merit of not giving up their arms. Their salvation came from the bench. From Matthieu Jalibert more exactly, entered in the 64th and author of a test three minutes later (67th, 24-29) which offers the offensive bonus to his team.
The Italians, out of breath, lacked the energy to seek a new feat. The Habs, they relied on one or two rescues, like the scratching of Sekou Macalou (77th) to preserve a fourteenth success. Not the prettiest, but the most disturbing.
Italy. 2 tries (Capuozzo 32nd, penalty 52nd), 4 penalties (Allan 14th, 23rd, 40th+2, 62nd).
France. 4 tries (Flament 5th, Ramos 19th, Dumortier 27th, Jalibert 67th). 3 transformations (Ramos 5th, 27th, 67th). 1 penalty (Ramos 47th). 1 yellow card (Ollivon 52nd).
Italy. Capuozzo – Bruno (Padovani 66e), Brex, Morisi, Menoncello – (o) Allan, (m) Varney (Fusco 74e) – Lamaro (cap.), L. Cannone (68e), Negri (Zuliani 65e) – Ruzza, N Cannone (Pettinelli 68e) – Ferrari (Ceccarelli 56e), Nicotera (Bigi 68e), Fischetti (Zani 68e).
France. Ramos – Penaud, Fickou, Moefana, Dumortier – (o) Ntamack (Jalibert 65th), (m) Dupont (cap.) – Ollivon, Alldritt (Macalou 61st), Jelonch – Willemse (R. Taofifenua 53rd), Flament – Atonio ( Falatea 51st), J. Marchand (Barlot 61st), Baille (Wardi 51st).