France vs. Italy: Score and Reaction from 2016 Six Nations Round 1

Tom Sunderland@@TomSunderland_Featured ColumnistFebruary 6, 2016

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 06:  Virimi Vakatawa of France breaks free from a tackle by Gonzalo Garcia of Italy during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Italy at Stade de France on February 6, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

France rode the storm to open their 2016 Six Nations campaign with a hard-fought 23-21 victory over Italy on Saturday as Guy Noves began his reign as head coach of the national team with a win.

A second-half kicking masterclass from French fly-half Jules Plisson saw the Parisian hosts hold out for a narrow victory and claim this year's Giuseppe Garibaldi trophy, their third successive Six Nations win over Italy.

PARIS, FRANCE - FEBRUARY 06:  Jules Plisson of France kicks a penalty during the RBS Six Nations match between France and Italy at Stade de France on February 6, 2016 in Paris, France.  (Photo by Richard Heathcote/Getty Images)
Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

Debutant Virimi Vakatawa grabbed the first try of the tournament and was joined on the scoresheet by team-mates Damien Chouly and Hugo Bonneval, while Sergio Parisse and Carlo Canna had consolation tries for a disappointed Italy side.

Paris was full of expectation of what to expect under Noves, arriving at the France helm after a 22-year coaching career at Toulouse, but this was hardly the expansive and convincing start they desired.

BBC Sport's Bryn Palmer illustrated just how close the result was, with Parisse bringing perhaps a premature end to Italy's challenge after a dismal attempt at a last-gasp drop goal:

Some fine initiative saw Jacques Brunel's side score the first points of the match through fly-half Canna, who capitalised upon his side's early territory with an astutely taken drop goal.

The fresh start signalled by Noves' takeover of Les Bleus was perfectly summed up when Vakatawa, the Test debutant currently without a club after making the switch from sevens, scored the first try of Saturday's affair.

Italy threatened early on, but it was the home team who found rhythm through the hands to grant Vakatawa space over on the left wing, and as the official Six Nations YouTube channel showed, it was a superb finish:

The 23-year-old hasn't played 15-a-side in a professional capacity since leaving Top 14 giants Racing 92 in 2013, but he delighted throughout as one of France's more positive running outlets in an otherwise tight clash.

But who better to get Italy back on the board than captain Parisse? Italy continued to knock on France's door and finally got their answer as the No. 8 trudged over at the base of a driving maul, moving up in Italy's Six Nations record books, per OptaJonny:

And Brunel's visitors would have moved further ahead had Canna only found his footing earlier in the fixture, missing the conversion along with several penalty attempts.

Luckily for him, France scrum-half and debutant Sebastien Bezy was similarly inaccurate with the boot and couldn't capitalise upon Chouly's 32nd-minute try, ensuring France led just 10-8 at the break.

The Irish Times' Andy McGeady illustrated how the kicking form of both Bezy and Canna had been lacklustre, to say the least:

If the first half was a difficult period for Zebre playmaker Canna, his response after the restart was precisely what Brunel wanted, scoring a quick penalty before gliding over for Italy's second try and adding the extras to boot.

Winger Hugo Bonneval ensured the back-and-forth nature of the contest continued when he soared over on the left flank under a wave of Azzurri pressure:

Out-half Jules Plisson took over the kicking duties after Bezy came off in favour of Maxime Machenaud, and the French No. 10 was an immediate improvement, converting Bonneval's try before adding a coolly taken penalty in the 70th minute.

The latter would prove to be particularly telling as it gave France their first lead since Canna's try. At 20-18, the Azzurri persevered in attempting to find space through their backs, but openings in the French defence proved few and far between.

With 10 minutes remaining, Kelly Haimona came on in place of the struggling Gonzalo Garcia, and his first contribution was putting the underdogs back into a 21-20 lead with minutes left on the board. The joy was short-lived, though, and Rugby World's Paul Williams could only applaud Plisson as a monstrous 54-metres penalty saw him turn the result back in France's favour:

It was far from glossy, but Plisson's late kicking display meant France held out for the slimmest of wins in what turned out to be a much edgier encounter than many would have expected.

Questions will now be asked of whether this was a new French team performing somewhat uneasily under the new system or if we can expect big things from minnows Italy in the weeks to come.

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