Franco Smith spoke of pride in a defiant and skilful Italy display in defeat to France, but says his side still have a huge amount to improve upon in a short space of time.
The South African, in temporary charge for the 2020 Guinness Six Nations, had called for an improved performance after the 42-0 defeat to Wales last week and got it – Italy going from drawing a blank in Cardiff to scoring three tries in a 35-22 loss at the Stade de France.
Les Bleus, confident after victory over England last week, started strongly and after early tries for Teddy Thomas and Charles Ollivon things looked ominous for Smith’s side.
But then up popped Matteo Minozzi with a response and as France struck three more times, through Gregory Alldritt, Romain Ntamack and Baptiste Serin, Italy kept firing back with Federico Zani and Mattia Bellini crossing.
“First of all I’m too proud a person to say we’re happy with the scoreline,” Smith said post-match. “But if not happy, we can take pride. I still feel that last week we played a very good Welsh team and they made the most of their opportunities, we didn’t.
“And I think even today we left some points out there we could’ve scored. That French side in the first ten minutes – we gave them a lot of respect, so that is a work-on for us and yes it is an improved performance, we would like to be as competitive as possible.”
Several times supporters in Paris might’ve thought this game was done, Alldritt’s stunning try on 39 minutes made it three tries to one and 23-10 at half-time – an uphill battle when you’re away from home and France have their tails up.
Italy dominated the third quarter, were pegged back again by more French brilliance, this time with Ntamack’s slalolmed effort, but redoubled their efforts with substitute Zani burrowing over on 65 minutes.
France got to 24 points quicker last week than they did here, and that Zani try brought the score back to 28-17 still with seven minutes remaining, the Azzurri not out of it.
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That was until replacement Serin’s own bit of magic and Bellini’s late, late score – Smith knows he has plenty to work with ahead of Scotland in Rome in a fortnight.
He added: “There’s a proud bunch of men which we’re putting together and the way they learn every week and the way they get to training and work hard is really impressive for me at this stage.
“If we can keep on improving and identifying the most important elements that we need to address that is going to make us even more competitive going forward.
“We’ve got a bit of time now and we’re going to reflect well on what needs to be done against Scotland.”