FRANCE 30 ITALY 12
Streaking away ... France centre Aurelien Rougerie scores the opening try. Photo: AFP
PARIS: World Cup finalists France handed new coach Philippe Saint-Andre a winning start in the Six Nations with a 30-12 victory over Italy at a freezing Stade de France on Saturday.
Tries from Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Malzieu, Vincent Clerc and debutant Wesley Fofana, allied with 10 points from Dimitri Yachvili's boot guided France past a toothless Italy side that dominated territory and possession for large periods of the game.
The visitors rarely threatened the French line and when they did launch an attack, were well marshalled by the home side, their points coming from Kris Burton's drop-goal and two penalties, and a third penalty by Tobias Botes.
Heavy clash ... Martin Castrogiovanni of Italy is tackled by French flanker Thierry Dusautoir. Photo: AFP
"It's a first victory. You have to have a smile," said Saint-Andre, who took over from Marc Lievremont after the World Cup where France lost 8-7 to New Zealand in the final.
"As a coach, you seek perfection, but today we saw a great defence, a good discipline and we even scored four tries."
Italy captain Sergio Parisse was left ruing his side's lack of cutting edge.
Favourites France draw first blood in Six Nations
Italy's captain Sergio Parisse (R) tries to catch the ball despite French flanker Julien Bonnaire. Photo: AFP
"We knew coming here for a result would be tough against a team who are World Cup vice champions, at home," Parisse said.
"We showed ambition, a desire to play, we had lots of ball but we needed to be more cynical because we had chances to score but didn't."
Italy dominated the opening 10 minutes of play without really threatening, but it was Yachvili who opened the scoring with a 11th minute penalty.
Vincent Debaty of France tries to charge down a kick by Australian-born Italy five-eighth Kris Burton. Photo: AP
The Australia-born Burton, who had an optimistic early drop-goal charged down, was successful with his second effort to draw the scores level.
France hit straight back, centre Rougerie slicing clean through the midfield defence for a simple try Yachvili converted for a 10-3 lead.
Burton cut the deficit with a penalty after Pascal Pape failed to roll away at a ruck in front of his own posts.
Italy continued to pose France problems at the set-piece and the home side were guilty of forcing the pass as they tried to get on the front foot.
But then Malzieu popped up on his left wing, the welcome recipient of a pass from the impressive No 8 Louis Picamoles after the French pack had won a scrum against the head, the lanky Clermont flyer scoring a fine individual try.
Handing off Edoardo Gori and full-back Andrea Masi, Malzieu easily stepped inside rookie counterpart Giovambattista Venditti and produced a further fend of Gori to crash over in the corner, Yachvili missing the extras.
Burton's early second-half penalty from the halfway line fell short, but the fly-half nailed a third effort from close range in the 47th minute to keep Italy in the game.
But as they had done against Ireland and Australia in the World Cup, the Italians began to wilt around the 50-minute mark, and looked increasingly ragged around the ruck and the half-back channel.
Yachvili missed a longe-range effort as France tried to turn the screw, debutant centre Wesley Fofana finally able to show some of his trademark dancing footwork in close quarters.
The Biarritz scrum-half made no mistake with his third penalty effort, which was quickly followed by Clerc's try, the result of a chip and chase by Francois Trinh-Duc with the Italian defence nowhere to be seen.
With a muted, near sell-out crowd of 79,563 seemingly numbed by temperatures of -2 Celsius, South Africa-born replacement Botes kicked a third penalty for the Italians.
But it ended with a fourth French try after Quintin Geldenhuys was shown a yellow card for collapsing a rolling maul with the line in sight.
From the ensuing line-out and ruck, Fofana showed good strength to cross for a try to mark an assured first international outing.
FRANCE 30 (Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Malzieu, Vincent Clerc, Wesley Fofana tries Dmitri Yachvili 2 con 2 pens) bt ITALY 12 (Kris Burton 2 pens, 1 dg, Tobias Botes pen) at Stade de France.