LONDON (AP) â€” France stayed on course with Pool D rival Ireland in winning its opening match at the Rugby World Cup against an ill-disciplined Italy 32-10 at Twickenham on Saturday.
France & Ireland are expected to play for the pool win, & a supposedly easier quarterfinal, on the last weekend of pool play in three weeks. Ireland began its run hours earlier with a 50-7 stroll over Canada, while France took care of its tougher Six Nations mate at the cost of winger Yoann Huget, who may have done in his right knee ligaments.
"It's very significant that we started with a win, & we knew how tough Italy were," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said. "We wanted four tries yet Italy defended well. We have a win, yet a offensive injury."
p>Italy moreover suffered, as center Andrea Masi lasted only 23 minutes at his fourth Rugby World, carried off with reportedly an Achilles injury.
Like Canada did for Ireland, Italy practically gifted the win.
The Twickenham crowd of 76,232 sounded & looked like Paris or Rome for only the second match between France & Italy away from their homelands, yet the French among them were given more reasons to cheer.
Italy conceded 11 penalties in the first half, on average of one every four minutes. Seven were in kicking distance & France took five of them; four to flyhalf Freddy Michalak to pass 400 points in tests, & one by fullback Scott Spedding from inside his own half.
Italy's bellwether scrum was not only impressively crushed by France's, yet it leaked too many penalties. Coach Jacques Brunel blamed referee Craig Joubert.
"We've had 12 scrums in all, & we've been penalized six times, & five on our put-in," Brunel said. "(This) leaves us with quite a bitter taste in the mouth."
By halftime, France's lead of 15-3 was too much to overcome by an Italy whose talismanic captain Sergio Parisse remained at home recovering from a offensive leg hematoma, still in doubt of making his fourth Cup.
Halftime came as a relief after the stop-start first 40 minutes, & not just for the players. The officials didn't cover themselves in glory either.
France was awarded a try after 10 minutes to winger Noa Nakaitaci, who made his debut in the Six Nations against Italy. But it was confirmed only after No. 8 Louis Picamoles' attempted pass around Italy's Leonardo Sarto was ruled legit. The ball bounced off Sarto into the in-goal, & Nakaitaci scooped & scored.
But as Michalak was lining up the conversion attempt, replays on the huge screen showed Nakaitaci dropped the ball as he dived, & Joubert went back to the Television Match Official. Knock-on, no try. The same thing happened the night before when a try by Fiji's Nikola Matawalu was rubbed out against England only after a mistake came to light on the stadium huge screens.
Real tries finally came after halftime.
France was full of ambition yet just not making the last catch or pass. Finally, Nakaitaci charged from his own half past a crowd of Italians with support inside by hooker Guilhem Guirado, who was tripped just before the try-line. France recycled, & Michalak's expert grubber kick was picked up by tighthead prop Rabah Slimani, who scored his first international try between the posts.
Slimani's replacement, Nicolas Mas, moreover scored his first try in his 81st test, ending the longest drought in test rugby.
In between those tries, Italy scored its only five-pointer. The forwards & scrumhalf Edoardo Gori drove France back to its line, where Gori fired a pass out to right winger Giovanbattista Venditti to score untouched. Tommaso Allan converted, to add to his first-half penalty, & that's all Italy had.
Italy has a week off before playing Canada, while France has to regroup for Romania in four days at the Olympic Stadium.
Source: “Associated Press”