The returning Mathieu Bastareaud set up a try and scored one of his own as France got off the mark in the Six Nations, delivering Jacques Brunel his first win as coach with a 34-17 defeat of Italy at the Stade Velodrome.
Les Bleus had experienced less than ideal preparation for their first home Six Nations match to be played outside Paris, with a host of players dropped by Brunel following controversy surrounding a night out in Edinburgh after their loss to Scotland.
The result was a disjointed performance in which perennial tournament whipping boys Italy were never really put to bed until Hugo Bonneval crossed on the hour mark to give France an 11-point lead.
That try was in part orchestrated by Bastareaud, who returned as skipper after serving a three-week ban for use of homophobic language, and served as the high-water mark of an encounter otherwise low on inspiration.
Bastareaud added his name to the scoresheet late on by barging his way over from close range, with Italy seemingly poised for yet another wooden spoon, having lost their 15th Six Nations game in a row, a record low point.
— OptaJonny (@OptaJonny) February 23, 2018
France started brightly and needed only six minutes to open the scoring, pouncing on some Italy indiscipline as Paul Gabrillagues touched down from a rolling maul.
But Maxime Machenaud missed a relatively routine conversion and Italy promptly responded with a hugely effective maul of their own that was collapsed as they surged for the line, the TMO awarding a penalty try to the Azzurri.
Les Bleus wasted a pair of attacking openings as they sought to regain the advantage, and eventually did so as Machenaud atoned for his earlier miss following further pressure from the hosts.
Machenaud then nudged France further ahead before half-time after they forced an Italy turnover, giving them a four-point advantage at the break.
He and Tommaso Allan traded three-pointers to start the second half as Italy kept themselves within striking distance, until Bastareaud proved his quality by starting the move of the match.
The centre sucked in three Italy defenders and offloaded to Bonneval, who then combined down the left with Remy Grosso to cross, Machenaud’s conversion making it 21-10.
France continued to dominate thereafter and Machenaud added two further penalties before Bastareaud powered across, with Matteo Minozzi providing late consolation for Italy after the kind of surging breakaway that the game had called out for in its quieter moments.
After 73 minutes: @BastaOfficiel
Defenders Beaten: 4
Tries: 1 pic.twitter.com/nbekrn2vee
— NatWest 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) February 23, 2018
Key Opta stats:
– France have won all 10 of their home games against Italy in the Six Nations, those wins coming by an average margin of 18 points.
– Three of Hugo Bonneval’s four tries for France have come against Italy.
– This win ended a run of eight games without a win in all competitions for France (L7, D1), their worst winless run since 1968-69 when they went 11 games without a victory.
– Luca Bigi (Italy) became the first player in the 2018 Six Nations to receive a yellow card.
– Mathieu Bastareaud scored just his fourth try in 43 Test appearances and his second against Italy, it was the first ever Test try he has scored in France.
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