Match Report

France hang on after thriller in Rome

Ethan Dumortier celebrates scoring their third try with teammates 5/2/2023
Grand Slam champions France got their Guinness Six Nations campaign off to a bonus-point-winning start with a 29-24 win over Italy but they were given an almighty scare along the way.

Grand Slam champions France got their Guinness Six Nations campaign off to a bonus-point-winning start with a 29-24 win over Italy but they were given an almighty scare along the way.

Leading 19-6 midway through the first half, Les Bleus looked like they were marching to a 14th successive victory, but the resurgent Azzurri roared back and even hit the front in the second half.

In the end, Matthieu Jalibert’s try made the difference, with France stopping a final Italian maul as they looked for a repeat of their famous last-gasp success against Wales in Cardiff.

France won all ten matches they played in 2022, including a first Grand Slam for a decade, and came into this one looking to a strong start in a year where they will also host the World Cup.

However Italy enjoyed a brilliant 2022 of their own, with Ange Capuozzo’s magic in Cardiff before a first-ever win over Australia in the Autumn Nations Series.

And the diminutive full-back was at the heart of everything they did well here, scoring in the first half and threatening with every touch.

Thibaud Flament, Thomas Ramos and debutant Ethan Dumortier had all crossed in the first half for France, but they conceded penalty after penalty as Italy crept back into it.

A second-half penalty try ignited the contest, before Jalibert’s late intervention.


France could have gone ahead within two minutes, Ramos pouncing on a loose ball in his own half and sprinting away down the right. Juan Ignacio Brex closed him down on the angle but Ramos passed inside to Damian Penaud, last year’s top try-scorer, who uncharacteristically knocked on when France had space and numbers galore.

Shortly after, Cyril Baille knocked on as France continued to threaten, although their first try actually came from Italian ball. Stephen Varney’s attempt at a clever kick from behind a ruck was never on, with Flament charging him down with ease, then regathering the ball and cantering home. Ramos converted and Les Bleus were 7-0 up after just four minutes.

Italy hit back with a Tommaso Allan penalty as Uini Atonio was penalised at a ruck. The visitors thought they had their second when Charles Ollivon knocked on while trying to touch down.

But they did not have to wait long. After Atonio earned a scrum penalty, they set up a rolling maul and made ground. When they turned to the backs, Romain Ntamack put in the cross-kick and Capuozzo could not gather under pressure from Penaud, with Ramos on hand to scoop up and dot down. The full-back was just wide with his conversion from a tricky angle.

Again Italy responded with a penalty from Allan, but they were struggling to deal with restarts. France’s next period of possession ended with a third try, again Ntamack with the perfect cross-kick, this time for new man Dumortier. Ramos converted and at 19-6, France looked in control.


Their lack of discipline was hurting them, allowing Italy to set up in France territory. A rolling maul made some ground and as the French defence went to cover the openside, Capuozzo shifted blind and beat Alldritt with some quick footwork to get over in the corner.

The penalties kept on coming against the visitors and another right before half-time allowed Italy to cut the deficit to 19-14 at the break.

France made the better start to the second half, Ramos slotting three points when Italy tried to slow the ball at a breakdown.

But their indiscipline was still an issue, and from another rolling maul, Ollivon was deemed to have collapsed it, sent to the sin-bin and conceding a penalty try in the process to make it 22-21.

Ramos then pushed a long-range penalty attempt just wide, before yet another French infringement allowed Allan to put the home side ahead for the first time with an hour gone.

The momentum was well and truly with the home side, the Stadio Olimpico rocking with anticipation at what was happening.

France needed something, and Galthié turned to Jalibert and his impact was immediate. After two successive penalties, France started a maul in the Italian 22. When the ball was released, a high tackle gave France penalty advantage but they wanted a try, and got it with Romain Taofifenua offloading for Jalibert to step inside a final tackle and get over for the bonus-point score. Ramos converted to make it 29-24.

There was still time for Italy to turn it around, and they forced more penalties out of France to earn an attacking lineout within ten metres. However the drive was stopped dead and when the ball could not be recycled, their hopes evaporated with the final blow of the whistle, a losing bonus point the least they deserved from their display.

Guinness Six Nations Player of the Match

France might have given away far too many penalties to come out comfortable victors, but when they did have the ball, they were constantly threatening. A large part of that was the speed with which Antoine Dupont delivered the ball, always raising the tempo when he could see the Italian defence was stretched. It was a huge factor in three of their tries, and as ever, his clearance kicking and defensive work were outstanding.