France strengthened its billing as a potential dark horse for the title in the Rugby World Cup by taking a 32-10 win over Italy on Saturday, though the solid display was overshadowed by another blunder by officials.
Barely a day after the high-profile error by the television match official (TMO) which involved England in their first game of the tournament, winger Noa Nakaitaci had his tenth-minute try allowed, only to be disallowed minutes later as Frederik Michalak prepared for the conversion.
Match referee Craig Joubert was advised by TMO Shaun Veldsman to give the try, but after reviewing the incident from a different angle, Veldsman realised that Nakaitaci had in fact dropped the ball before planting it on the ground, making the try invalid.
The issue with the TMO system did not affect the final result of the match, however, as a solid try each by Rabah Slimani and Nicolas Mas, coupled with five penalty kicks by Michalak allowed France to comfortably take victory at Twickenham.
Michalak opened the scoring, but managed to miss two before successfully kicking four penalties, while another kick by Scott Spedding from the halfway line gave France a 15-3 halftime lead.
France started the second half with the same strength as in the closing stages of the first and pulled ahead even further courtesy of Michalak claiming his fifth penalty kick of the evening, while prop Rabah Sliamani scored the first try of the game minutes later.
But Italy quickly regrouped and making use of the opportunity unwittingly made by France who had over-committed men to an earlier ruck, wing Giovanbattista Venditti found space between the posts to claw back some of the deficit.
France was to endure more misery shortly after, however, when Yoann Huget was carried off by a motorised stretcher for an apparent knee injury which had caused his legs to buckle as he sprinted into the Italian front row.
“It looks like Yoann Huget has done his cruciate ligament – this is not the best news,” France head coach Philippe Saint-Andre told ITV Sport. “He is a very important player and a big player to lose for this team. After that injury, for four or five minutes we were a bit shaky.
“It’s very important that we started with a win – we knew how tough Italy were. We wanted four tries but Italy defended well. We have started very well but we must continue. We have a win, but a bad injury.”
With ten minutes remaining on the clock and France already another try ahead due to a series of missed tackles by the Azzurri, leaving a gap for prop Mas to push the ball against the base of the post, the Italians were soon playing for a consolation score.
The final last-ditch measure by Italy to try and claw back some of the lead at first looked promising, but as phase after phase was completed at half of the pace needed to even remotely threaten the French, referee Joubert put an end to the match and so to the Italians’ hopes of starting their tournament strongly.