France 46-20 Italy, Six Nations, March 14
A breath of fresh air
Huw Baines
March 14, 2010
France centre Yannick Jauzion skips past Carlo del Fava to score, France v Italy, Six Nations, Stade de France, March 14, 2010
Yannick Jauzion skips past Carlo del Fava to score © Getty Images

There's one week to go in the Six Nations and fans of open, attacking rugby finally have a performance to write home about.

Twenty-four hours on from a game at Murrayfield that plumbed the depths of mediocrity, France routed Italy with a display of pace and effervescence, setting a new bar in terms of attacking play for this season's Championship.

France head into their Grand Slam decider against England next week with their tails up, their second-half malfunction against Wales forgotten following a display of running rugby that recalled not only Dominici, Galthie and Bernat-Salles but also in small patches Blanco and Sella. Against an Italian side that ran Ireland close, outfought England for long periods and beat Scotland, France asserted their dominance early on, crucially refusing to be dragged into an arm wrestle.

The home side's opening try, sparked by a dart from the majestic Morgan Parra and finished by Imanol Harinordoquy, showcased their winning combination of brains and brawn in much the same way as Marc Andreu's break to set up Yannick Jauzion made clear their blend of youth and experience.

Jauzion was upstaged on the scoresheet by his centre partner David Marty but his was the finest of performances. The Toulouse veteran ghosted in and out at first receiver, taking the pressure off the youthful duo of Parra and Francois Trinh-Duc when necessary and also offering constant support on the shoulder of the ball carrier. It was Italy's focus on stopping his surges that opened the door for a miss-pass and Marty's opener, while his try was just reward.

Lievremont was also able to expose his latest raft of youngsters to more Championship action, with Andreu enjoying a brilliant game on his full debut and former Under-20 skipper Alexandre Lapandry rounding off a try to showcase his support play at openside along with his considerable pace and power.

France also showed that a positive attitude could go a long way. In recent weeks Martin Johnson and Andy Robinson have espoused Italy's quality as a defensive side after watching their teams trade aimless kicks with the Azzurri, but France kept the ball in hand and backed their quality out wide. Nowhere was this more evident than in the contrasting fortunes of the two fullbacks, with Clement Poitrenaud providing a constant threat from deep and sparking Marty's second try while Luke McLean provided an unwanted reminder of what a limited kicking game looks like.

Harinordoquy, Lionel Nallet and the front-row of Thomas Domingo, William Servat and Nicolas Mas also deserve a heavyweight bow not only for their mastery of the set-piece but also their ability to keep the ball alive. Domingo's dart from a ruck in the first-half showed irrepressible enthusiasm and was a world away from the self-defeating flops to the floor seen so frequently in Edinburgh and Dublin on Saturday.

Italy again failed to do themselves justice, their feisty finish to the game coming far too late. Pablo Canavosio, introduced after only half an hour, much to the disgust of Tito Tebaldi, and Craig Gower were rare shining lights at halfback while Alessandro Zanni was again tireless at No.8. Inside-centre Gonzalo Garcia is their most dangerous attacking option and a willing defender, but it was his first-half lapse in discipline, his second this tournament, that cost Italy 12 points. He was also guilty of dog-legging his line terribly to allow Andreu to pounce twice in a game that will be swiftly erased from the memory banks.

What the last 10 minutes will ensure is that Wales will be on their guard as Italy arrive at the Millennium Stadium next weekend and also that Lievremont will have plenty of ammunition in training this week. The coach has spoken of the ferocity and commitment in the camp and he will want no let up as England arrive in Paris to spoil their old foes' party.

Whether Johnson's men can deal with the French attack is as big a question as whether England can generate a try-scoring opportunity against the French blitz - the ball is most definitely in Lievremont's court.

Huw Baines is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.

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