Six Nations - Italy claim incredible win over France

Sat, 12 Mar 16:18:00 2011

Italy pulled off the biggest shock in recent Six Nations memory as they beat France 22-21 at the Stadio Flaminio.

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Mirco Bergamasco's stunning long-range penalty in the last five minutes put the Italians ahead, and the Azzurri managed to hold on to complete the greatest win in their history.

Reigning Six Nations champions France will only have themselves to blame for the indiscipline that wrecked their hopes, but Italy's outstanding efforts fully merited the astonishing victory.

The French came to Rome as a team looking to exorcise a few demons following their disappointing defeat at Twickenham two weeks ago, but they looked anything but fired up for a rebound win as they got off to a terrible start.

Errors peppered their rugby straight from the whistle, with a second minute infringement in a scrum beneath the French posts offering the hosts a generous three-point headstart.

The Italians, by contrast, impressed with their vigorous efforts from the off, with their tackling keeping the French pegged back and their ambitious running only let down by often slow ball at the ruck.

An interception put the French on the front foot on 14 minutes, however, as Francois Trinh-Duc intercepted and broke through the defence.

Bergamasco was there to cover back, but the weak clearance kick put the French back straight onto the attack. Les Bleus span the ball out to Vincent Clerc on the left flank, who backed himself to outsprint Gonzalo Canale with a deft kick forward, his reward a simple touch-down.

Morgan Parra pushed the conversion just wide, but the French started putting together some better moves and just four minutes later Clerc broke through the defence to get the visitors into position on the Italian line.

The ball came out quickly to Aurelien Rougerie, who was pounced upon by three white-shirted defenders who forced him to drop the ball as he reached out to place it between the posts.

More French pressure forced a penalty beneath the posts on 21 minutes which Parra knocked over with ease, but just as it seemed the French would run away with it the Italians seemed to find the key to closing them down.

Increasingly ferocious tackling from the hosts saw them create pressure of their own, with Canale's surging run putting the French in all sorts of trouble and leading to a penalty which Bergamasco knocked over to cut the deficit to two points.

That was how the match stayed until half time - but after that Les Bleus looked as if they would take charge of the match.

From the re-start France put the Italians under pressure, holding onto the ball much better and quickly winning a penalty inside the 22m that Parra knocked over to make it 11-6.

Pressure seemed to be turning to match-winning dominance when Trinh-Duc's sublime switch wrong-footed the Italian defence in the 22m, his neat lay-off setting up Parra to score his first Six Nations try right under the posts before converting to make it 18-6.

It seemed Italy were quickly falling out of the match - but the Azzurri had different ideas. Straight from the re-start they poured all over France, creating pressure as they moved upfield, but Bergamasco's kicking let them down as a pair of makeable penalties on 54 and 57 minutes were pulled left and dropped short respectively.

Yet rather than become despondent at the missed opportunities, the Italians seemed to take strength from the near misses.

Tommaso Benvenuti charged into the French 22m just two minutes later, but appeared to have blown the opportunity when he failed to lay off the pass.

Yet scrum-half Fabio Semenzato was there to collect the ball from the ruck and flip it out to Andrea Masi, who powered over in the corner.

Despite the kick being far harder than his previous two, Bergamasco slotted the ball straight through the middle - then added another three points for Italy five minutes later after the French came offside at a ruck.

Stunned into action, the French threw everything at their hosts, and Parra's determination showed as his huge kick from 50m restored France's five-point advantage.

Once again, however, Nick Mallet's men refused to accept that it would not be their day. From the restart the hosts came forward once more, and when Bergamasco was unfairly held in a tackle inside the French 22m he cut the deficit to two points with 10 minutes left.

Italy kept on coming, forcing another penalty with five minutes left that Bergamasco landed from an acute angle on the left to put the home side in front.

From there on they never once looked like giving up their advantage, with immaculate discipline and tackling finally reaping its reward as France's desperate attempt to force a drop goal position fell flat.

That left Italy to celebrate the greatest day in their rugby history - while France coach Marc Lievremont and his men will head home wondering what happened to last year's superb Grand Slam-winning side.

Toby Keel / Eurosport

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