ROME (AP) — France got its Six Nations campaign off to a thumping start by defeating Italy 50-10 in Rome on Saturday.
Scrumhalf Antoine Dupont, the player of the tournament last year, opened the new campaign in style by scoring a try and setting up three others to be man of the match with less than an hour’s work.
Teddy Thomas scored two tries and Dylan Cretin, Gaël Fickou, Arthur Vincent and Brice Dulin also crossed for France. Matthieu Jalibert, in for the injured Romain Ntamack, was perfect off the tee with six conversions and a penalty.
Captain Charles Ollivon said the priority they put on the match was rewarded with a first half-century against Italy since 2009.
“We needed to prepare well. We were very serious. We followed the instructions,” Ollivon said.
“We worked hard during the 10 days in Nice (in camp) and it paid off today. In the first half, they put in big sequences, very hard to defend. At this level, there is no room for relaxation, even 30 seconds. This result is very satisfying.”
While outclassed, Italy fought to the end and Luca Sperandio touched down in the last quarter. Paolo Garbisi converted to add to a first-half penalty.
But it was Italy’s record-extending 28th consecutive Six Nations defeat. It hasn’t won since 2015 and next faces England at Twickenham.
“I don’t think the French were so much better than us,” Italy coach Franco Smith said. “Physically they are a lot better but there are mistakes that we can avoid, with patience and experience.
“Ball in hand, we played very well, and we suffered five tries from our mistakes.”
France was looking for a strong start against the tournament’s weakest team to boost its aim of going one better than last year’s second-place finish. The Tricolors were pipped by England on points difference and were also runners-up to Eddie Jones’ side in the Autumn Nations Cup.
It didn’t take long for them to make their mark. Thomas launched an attack from a standing start on the right wing inside his half, left wing Gabin Villière took it to the tryline, and the flanker Cretin crashed over beside the posts for his fist test try.
Italy worked overtime to get into France’s 22 twice and threaten but was undone by self-inflicted errors.
But when France had the ball, it hardly sweated.
From a lineout maul, Dupont threaded through a chip to the line with no Italians home and Fickou grounded the ball.
Moments later, Dupont hacked at a dropped pass by Italy, Villière got a kind bounce, Dupont was in support and threw a no-look pop-up for center Vincent to grab and score.
“That (pass) came from nowhere, even I was surprised,” Vincent said.
France had the result sewn up after half an hour, leading 24-3 and having spent only 54 seconds in Italy’s 22.
Italy thought it finally got a try just before halftime when scrumhalf Stephen Varney dummied twice and put in left wing Montanna Ioane, but the pass was ruled forward.
France also made a flying start in the second half. Italy fullback Jacopo Trulla just beat Thomas to a Dupont grubber over the tryline, but the bonus-point try came moments later when Dulin counterattacked from outside his 22, gathered Villière’s chip and scored in the left corner.
Then from lineout ball, Thomas came off his wing, sliced through and sent in Dupont. Dupont returned the favor three minutes later after Jalibert shrugged off an Italian on his back and made the break.
France led 45-3 with 23 minutes to go, when Italy has tended to fade. But the Italians bit back thanks to a breakdown turnover by Maxime Mbanda. Trulla got the ball to the right wing where Sperandio executed a perfect chip and chase for his first international try.
France’s only try of the last quarter came off a 5-meter scrum, when Thomas stepped a defender. They shouldn’t have such a cruise against Ireland in Dublin next weekend.
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