Italy stun France 23-18 in Six Nations
Italy's Sergio Parisse (Reuters)
Forwards Sergio Parisse and Martin Castrogiovanni scored a try each as Italy beat France 23-18 in the Six Nations championship to deal a massive blow to French title hopes.
Two years ago, Italy stunned France with a 22-21 win in Rome and once again the French wasted a lead, having gone into the break 15-13 ahead thanks to tries from No. 8 Louis Picamoles and winger Benjamin Fall. But the cunning and faultless kicking of first-five Luciano Orquera helped Italy fight back in the second half.
Orquera set up both Italy's tries, converted them, and added a penalty and a drop goal to cap a superb performance. France has to regroup and beat Wales at Stade de France next Saturday to keep its Six Nations title hopes alive.
"It's hard to say what went wrong, but you have to congratulate them, they started better than us," France first-five Frederic Michalak said. We tried not to panic, but I think we lost the match with our carelessness.
"They are very solid in the front and at the back, they're good players," Michalak added. "But we didn't take our chances and they believed in it until the end."
France started brightly, but Italy counterattacked from deep in its own half, and Orquera burst through the French midfield with a surging run and offloaded to No. 8 Parisse to go over in the left corner for the first try after just five minutes.
With France camping near the Italian line Michalak switched the ball from right to left and fed Picamoles, who shrugged off Parisse and fullback Andrea Masi to go over in the left corner.
But Orquera knocked over a drop goal from 20 yards and a penalty from a bit further back to put Italy 13-5 up midway through the first half.
France thought it had scored another try shortly after when its mobile pack swarmed around fullback Yoann Huget and bundled him over the line, but the try was not given after a long consultation with the video replay.
Instead, France got a scrum near the line and forced Italy into a penalty, which Michalak slotted over to reduce the arrears to 13-8.
France finally took the lead when Huget held off a tackle, fed centre Florian Fritz and he offloaded to Fall, who used his pace to run in from 30 yards for a converted try to put the French ahead for the first time at 15-13.
After a scrappy start to the second half, Michalak punished some Italian indiscipline with a fine penalty to open up a five-point gap. But just like two years ago - when it led 18-6 - France was unable to protect its lead.
Orquera held off a tackle to offload to Castrogiovanni and he bundled over for his 12th Italy try - making him one of the most prolific props in international rugby.
Orquera converted from near the posts to put Italy back ahead at 20-18, and things got worse for France when lock and captain Pascal Pape had to go off with a knee injury and was replaced by the inexperienced Romain Taofifenua, with flanker Thierry Dusautoir taking the armband.
Kristopher Burton slotted over a drop goal to pile more pressure on France and leave it needing a cousautoir led the charge. France won a penalty with 20 seconds to go some 15 yards from the line, but were forced out of play.