Azzurri v Les Bleus

The 0-29 score line was somewhat flattering to a French side that had had eight changes from the previous match, who travelled to Italy for the match up against the Azzurri at Stadio Olympico yesterday (Sunday 15th March 2015).

 

The French media – passionate about their rugby and pride in their national team, had been calling for Philippe Saint-Andre’s head, following a further disappointing match against Wales in round 3.

 

Saint-Andre – who’s either a bumbling fool, or an experimental hero, depending upon the result, made a huge eight changes for the trip to Italy.  Cami Lopez, who has one of the worst kicking averages in the competition (he started the match against Italy with a 67% average) did manage to slot two penalty kicks over in the first half.  However, injury late in the first half to his right knee, which was clearly swollen, meant that Scott Spedding had to take the next penalty kick and France extended their lead to 0-9.

 

Conditions weren’t great.  The ground was slippery and at times, the ball seemed to have a mind of its own, slipping from players hands with ease.  The total number of handling errors was 37 – this not even including the kicking errors, led to a very poor spectacle.  France really should have capitalised more on Italy’s errors in the first half and sewn up the game before the half time whistle.  France’s confidence is at an all-time low and directly affects France’s game.  It felt, watching the match, as though game management was poor.

 

In the second half, Jules Plisson replaced Lopez and France seemed to have much more intent about them.  Getting the job done became a priority and Italy suffered.  Scott Spedding made a great break and good yardage, leading to a Maestri try, easily converted by Plisson.

 

France seemed to up the pace and finally saw those great, fast breaks that French Top 14 rugby is renowned for.  However, a penalty awarded deep in the Italian 22 saw Dusautoir choose for Plisson to kick for goal, rather than slot the ball into the corner, which would have given France an opportunity to score another try, take some pressure off them and perhaps boost their confidence levels.

 

Statistics tell a different story to the scoreline;French possession and territory at 53% and 57%, but when carries (107 against Italy’s 83) and metres gained (Italy 201 to France’s 506) are factored in, it’s clear that Les Bleus really did make the most of their opportunities, despite this being very, very unobvious during a tedious, almost farcical first half.  Thank goodness for half time and the rollicking the team inevitably got from Saint-Andre.

 

Of the backs, Spedding showed some great strength, skipping through tackles and exposing Italy’s defense as laughable.  A better side would have scored at least double.  In addition, I do think that Plisson made a huge difference when he took Lopez’s place.  He may well be starting next week, it will be interesting to see how well he can orchestrate play against a more coherent squad.

 

The French pack were at times brilliant and at others shambolic.  Losing their own line-out ball and giving away penalties in the scrum, BUT when they did pull it together, they didn’t look too bad, with some great rolling mauls, from the catch and drive and holding off Italy with some tight defensive work.  Franch Captain, Thierry Dusautoir won Man of the Match in his 50th game as Captain of France.

 

 

Remarkably, France ARE still in with a shot at the title… The mathematical permutations indicate this, but surely, for Wales and Ireland to both lose to Italy and Scotland respectively would take a miracle – perhaps of the Norovirus type that ‘helped’ England to their most emphatic win over the All Blacks in 2012.  I’m not giving Saint-Andre any ideas there, by the way!

 

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