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Battle-hardened France show patience, pragmatism


Luke Phillips

Thierry Dusautoir starred for France.

Thierry Dusautoir starred for France. Photo: AP

PARIS: The defence-driven pragmatism that saw France reach the World Cup final resurfaced in their opening Six Nations victory over Italy on Saturday.

Led magnificently by captain Thierry Dusautoir and indefatigable No.8 Louis Picamoles, France offered up stout defence without ever straying offside, content to play the waiting game as the Italians slowly unravelled.

When the Italians infringed, the unerring boot of Dimitri Yachvili was on call to keep the scoreboard ticking along for the home side.

Italy's captain Sergio Parisse (R) tries to catch the ball despite French flanker Julien Bonnaire. Click for more photos

Favourites France draw first blood in Six Nations

World Cup finalists avenge shock defeat against Italy in last year's Six Nations. Photo: AFP

Tries were also scored by Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Malzieu, Vincent Clerc and impressive debutant Wesley Fofana, as Italy failed to convert their early domination of territory and possession into points.

"It's a first victory. You have to have a smile," said coach Philippe Saint-Andre, who was installed after Marc Lievremont was stripped of the job following the World Cup, where the French lost 8-7 to New Zealand in the final.

"As a coach, you seek perfection but today you saw a great defence, a good discipline and we even scored four tries."

France scored tries through Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Malzieu, Vincent Clerc and debutant Wesley Fofana, allied with 10 points from Dimitri Yachvili's boot, the Italy managing just a drop-goal and two penalties from Kris Burton, and a third penalty by Tobias Botes.

But Saint-Andre, who cut his coaching teeth with English side Gloucester before spells with Bourgoin, Sale and a return to France with Toulon before taking on the national job, said there were also downsides in his team's performance.

"The glass is half full and half-empty," the 44-year-old former France winger said.

"Up front we could have performed better. We lacked aggressiveness at the start of match in clearing out and as for taking the game to them, we did some things of quality but we were often guilty of failing to finish them off well.

"We won two scrums against the head, including one that led to Malzieu's try, so we can't say the scrum was irregular as such. On our lineout, however, we lost a lot of ball."

Saint-Andre acknowledged that patience was key to the game, given that Italy had held out in the World Cup against Ireland and Australia for the opening hour of each match.

"We analysed the World Cup matches and up to the 60th minutes it was always 9-6, 6-6, and it was really in the final 20 minutes that you saw the difference so we had to be patient," he said.

"We saw in their game a tactic to go for territory but today they were much more ambitious in their gameplan and keeping the ball.

"Italy employed a strategy that saw them keep the ball. They didn't give it up easily."

Saint-Andre also had a sharp word directed at replacement scrum-half Morgan Parra, speaking out at the annoyingly regular image of players booting the ball into touch to bring the game to a premature end, often to boos from the public who have paid a lot of money to attend international Test matches.

"I wasn't happy about the last action," he said. "We saw a situation where we kicked the ball into touch.

"You must play the ball, enjoy it. The match was won, sure, but you mustn't kick the ball into touch. The pleasure of playing must carry on until the final second."

Meanwhile, Italy coach Jacques Brunel was left to ponder the shortcomings of his team.

Worrying for a team whose strength has always been based on a strong tight five, their scrum creaked badly, and they lost two against the head, one of which led directly to a crucial French try.

"In the first half, we kept a lot of possession and took the initiative, and dominated territory, and were only 15-6 down at half-time," said Brunel, who took over from South African Nick Mallett after the World Cup.

"But we made two mistakes in the scrum, which didn't go well, and we paid a heavy price.

"We showed a good spirit on the pitch, always trying to attack and put the French on the backfoot. It's sometimes difficult to find the words to explain the missed passes and everything else that went wrong.

"We put the French defence under pressure but the final gesture just got away from us, but the spirit was there and that's the most important thing."

The main lesson learnt, Brunel said, was for all "to know that to dominate is not to win".

"I think we enjoyed 75 percent of territory and 65 percent of possession in the first half," he said.

"We also had three or four chances to score a try but we never managed it, as France did.

"That shows their value, they were able to turn everything around with very few chances. That's the difference.

"But we're on an interesting path. We want to continue advancing."

Captain Sergio Parisse, who plies his club trade with Top 14 outfit Stade Francais, called on his team to be more cynical.

"We've had very little time to work together before this match. We knew coming here for a result would be tough against a team who are World Cup vice champions, at home," the No 8 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."

He added: "At half-time with the score at 15-6, we said to one another 'hey that's not bad, we can cause them trouble'.

"But I don't recall having dominated the game. France had some ball on the turnover, played it well and managed to score some tries."


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Round 1
Sat, 19 SepTimes shown AEST
ENG 35vs FJI 11 Report Stats
TGA 10vs GEO 17 Report Stats
IRE 50vs CAN 7 Report Stats
Sun, 20 SepTimes shown AEST
SAF 32vs JPN 34 Report Stats
FRA 32vs ITA 10 Report Stats
SAM 25vs USA 16 Report Stats
WAL 54vs URU 9 Report Stats
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NZL 26vs ARG 16 Report Stats
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SCO 45vs JPN 10 Report Stats
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AUS 28vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 38vs ROM 11 Report Stats
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NZL 58vs NAM 14 Report Stats
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ARG 54vs GEO 9 Report Stats
ITA 23vs CAN 18 Report Stats
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SAF 46vs SAM 6 Report Stats
ENG 25vs WAL 28 Report Stats
AUS 65vs URU 3 Report Stats
SCO 39vs USA 16 Report Stats
Mon, 28 SepTimes shown AEST
IRE 44vs ROM 10 Report Stats
Wed, 30 SepTimes shown AEST
TGA 35vs NAM 21 Report Stats
Fri, 02 OctTimes shown AEST
WAL 23vs FJI 13 Report Stats
FRA 41vs CAN 18 Report Stats
Sat, 03 OctTimes shown AEST
NZL 43vs GEO 10 Report Stats
SAM 5vs JPN 26 Report Stats
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SAF 34vs SCO 16 Report Stats
ENG 13vs AUS 33 Report Stats
Mon, 05 OctTimes shown AEDT
ARG 45vs TGA 16 Report Stats
IRE 16vs ITA 9 Report Stats
Wed, 07 OctTimes shown AEDT
CAN 0vs ROM 0 02:45Leicester City Stadium
FJI 0vs URU 0 06:00stadium:mk
Thu, 08 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAF 0vs USA 0 02:45The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
NAM 0vs GEO 0 06:00Sand
Sat, 10 OctTimes shown AEDT
NZL 0vs TGA 0 06:00St James' Park
Sun, 11 OctTimes shown AEDT
SAM 0vs SCO 0 00:30St James' Park
AUS 0vs WAL 0 02:45Twic
ENG 0vs URU 0 06:00Manch
ARG 0vs NAM 0 22:00Leicester City Stadium
Mon, 12 OctTimes shown AEDT
ITA 0vs ROM 0 00:30Sand
FRA 0vs IRE 0 02:45MilS
USA 0vs JPN 0 06:00Kholm
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Sun, 18 OctTimes shown AEDT
WinB 0vs RUpA 0 02:00Twic
WinC 0vs RUpD 0 06:00MilS
WinD 0vs RUpC 0 23:00MilS
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WQF1 0vs WQF2 0 02:00Twic
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WQF3 0vs WQF4 0 03:00Twic
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LSF1 0vs LSF2 0 07:00The Stadium, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park
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WSF1 0vs WSF2 0 03:00Twic
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Australia 3 3 0 0 97 13
Wales 3 3 0 0 58 13
England 3 1 2 0 1 6
Fiji 3 0 3 0 -49 0
Uruguay 2 0 2 0 -107 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
South Africa 3 2 1 0 56 11
Scotland 3 2 1 0 40 10
Japan 3 2 1 0 -12 8
Samoa 3 1 2 0 -52 4
USA 2 0 2 0 -32 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
New Zealand 3 3 0 0 87 14
Argentina 3 2 1 0 64 10
Tonga 3 1 2 0 -22 6
Georgia 3 1 2 0 -71 4
Namibia 2 0 2 0 -58 0
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Rugby World Cup 2015
Team P W L D +/- Pts
Ireland 3 3 0 0 84 14
France 3 3 0 0 72 14
Italy 3 1 2 0 -24 5
Canada 3 0 3 0 -71 1
Romania 2 0 2 0 -61 0
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