• Text size      
  • Send this article to a friend
  • Print this article

France 30 Italy 10: Plenty for Johnson to ponder

This contest had a little bit of everything.

Italy's Joshua Furno is thwarted in his attempts to capture the ball at the Stade de France. Picture: Reuters
Italy's Joshua Furno is thwarted in his attempts to capture the ball at the Stade de France. Picture: Reuters

Glorious tries, red cards for a replacement prop from both countries - the hosts' Rabah Slimani, who retaliated to a headbutt from the visitors' Michele Rizzo - another replacement, Sebastien Vahaamahina, being sent to the sin bin only a minute after entering the fray, abject penalty attempts, lashings of stakhanovite labour and a referee who seemed to think he was in a reality TV show.

The tussle also highlighted the absurdity of statistics, given that Italy enjoyed nearly 70% of possession and territory in the second period, yet only managed a late touchdown for Tommaso Iannone, whereas France, who were once again far from their best, effectively won the match with an eight-minute, three-try burst when they briefly remembered the qualities which have made them synonymous with attacking, expansive rugby.

It all added up to a sparky Six Nations battle with a utterly predictable outcome, and the chances are that when Scotland, currently languishing at the bottom of the table, travel to the Eternal City later this month, they will be involved in yet another wooden spoon decider.

One suspects the Italians may fancy their chances when they glance at how the SRU's finest have been pummelled at the line-out in successive weeks. And, whatever their backs' ongoing problems in conjuring up anything truly memorable, they have at least scored tries in both games so far, a feat which has eluded the Murrayfield brigade.

Yet, if the Scots have toiled to cross the line, they might derive succour from the fashion in which Les Bleus ripped their rivals apart between the 44th and 52nd minutes when Louis Picamoles, Wesley Fofana and Hugo Bonneval finished off tries with an elan which had been absent throughout a pretty dire first half. The Azzurri, as they often do, had orchestrated some mighty scrummages and looked capable of seizing the initiative after surviving an opening onslaught, largely because Jean-Marc Doussain was initially incapable of kicking the ball anywhere near the posts, let alone between them.

Yet, once again, the Italians huffed and puffed, relying more on perspiration than inspiration, while being restricted due to a dearth of the clinical qualities which are required in these circumstances. Their stand-off, Tommaso Allan, was equally prodigal in squandering opportunities with the boot and it might be that both Scotland and Italy have different men at No.10 by the time they square up in Rome. Indeed, the likelihood is that both coaches, Scott Johnson and Jacques Brunel, will make sweeping changes to their line-ups, given the myriad deficiencies which have been exposed in the tournament.

The question is whether Italy will persist with an ageing pack, one that can still produce prodigious exploits, but appears to run out of steam as matches rage on. There is no doubting the efficacy of world-class performers in the mould of Sergio Parisse, Martin Castrogiovanni, Mauro Bergamasco or Marco Bortolami, a quartet who have collectively racked up over 400 caps, but they are all in their early to mid-30s and, regardless of how well they combine, everybody knows what to expect.

Engage them at close quarters, as the French did for long periods of yesterday's encounter, and you will be dragged into an attritional dogfight. But if you can get the ball out wide and avoid chaos at the breakdown, Italy can be stretched and their limitations highlighted.

The French illustrated that with their last two tries, the first of which sprung from a rampaging run by Fofana, who sped past Luke McLean as if the latter was not there. The second was even more spectacular, with the centre making a fresh burst, as the prelude to feeding on to Yoann Huget, who released Bonneval for his maiden Test score. Their opponents were, albeit temporarily, left chasing shadows and, although one wonders whether Scotland have the confidence, let alone the ability, to attempt anything as extravagant.

But they should consider two important factors, namely that even as Brunel's personnel strive for greater ambition, they are in danger of being stuck in the middle of nowhere. And that, while debate rages on over who should play at half-back for Scotland, the same discussions are being held in Milan, Parma, and wherever the oval ball is cherished in Italy, with few answers in sight.

If Johnson and his squad can heed that message, they can do what France did. But only with a significant improvement on their shambolic campaign to date.

Contextual targeting label: 
Arts and Entertainment

Commenting & Moderation

We moderate all comments on HeraldScotland on either a pre-moderated or post-moderated basis.
If you're a relatively new user then your comments will be reviewed before publication and if we know you well and trust you then your comments will be subject to moderation only if other users or the moderators believe you've broken the rules

Moderation is undertaken full-time 9am-6pm on weekdays, and on a part-time basis outwith those hours. Please be patient if your posts are not approved instantly.

211725