Edwards relieved after France avoid shock defeat with victory in Italy

Shaun Edwards admitted France were hanging on at the end after avoiding a shock defeat in Italy by edging to a 29-24 victory at the Stadio Olimpico. Ethan Dumortier scored a try on his France debut as Les Bleus launched their Six Nations title defence with a bonus-point win but only after a major scare as Italy led during the second half.

Edwards, France’s defence coach, told ITV: “An incredible amount of improvement from Italy. I’ve just spoken to the coach after the game and I said you should be proud of your lads, mate. They were absolutely outstanding.

“The fitness levels, they came on strong in the second half and let’s be honest, we was hanging on at the end. We did hang on, we move on.”

Edwards added: “We certainly got a serious challenge, and in the first half we were quite dominant and obviously the score reflected that. Second half they came on leaps and bounds and at the end obviously it was a very tight affair.

“But we’re in a good habit at the moment of winning tight, close games, going up against Australia, South Africa, it’s happened in a few games so hopefully we will continue that habit, but I think we all know if we don’t come up with a better performance next week we’ll be on the end of a 15 to 20, 30 points.”

Thibaud Flament, Thomas Ramos and Matthieu Jalibert also got on the scoresheet for the grand slam champions, while Ange Capuozzo dotted down for Italy and Tommaso Allan added four penalties.

The visitors were dealt a second-half blow when Charles Ollivon was sent to the sin bin and Italy were awarded a penalty try, at one point taking a second-half lead through Allan. France fended off the threat and will look to extend their winning streak to 15 matches when they travel to Ireland next weekend.

The Italy fly-half Allan told ITV: “Yeah, 100 per cent [it feels like a missed chance], it was quite tough to swallow, this defeat. We had our chances. First half there were a bit too many errors, we gave away 19 points to them off our mistakes.

“We’ve just got to find our balance, just have that execution, be more diligent in what we do. We gave away too many balls to the French and they’re a class side and they’re going to score tries off of our mistakes, but there’s a lot of positives to take from this.

“We’ll look at it, I think we are very confident for next week’s game.”

Ange Capuozzo celebrates scoring a try for Italy during their narrow defeat
Ange Capuozzo celebrates scoring a try for Italy during their narrow defeat. Photograph: Giuseppe Maffia/Shutterstock

Regarding the team’s development, Allan said: “We’re improving every week but we better start winning as well now. We know we can win, we showed some really good rugby today. We’ll see what happens next week, we’re very confident, we’ll look at the mistakes we made in the first half and try to rectify that, and we’ll take it from there.”

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France were on the scoresheet after four minutes when the Italy scrum-half Stephen Varney attempted a box-kick only to be thwarted by Flament, who intercepted before going on an unstoppable run over the whitewash, with Ramos adding the extras.

Allan booted in a penalty to narrow the deficit before France had a try ruled out, but Les Bleus soon restored their advantage through Ramos. Allan added another penalty for the hosts before Dumortier collected Romain Ntamack’s cross-field kick and dotted down to open his account for France.

Italy responded through Capuozzo, who went on a sprightly run and was able to evade Grégory Alldritt before getting the ball down in the left corner, with Allan adding a penalty to make it 19-14 at the halfway point.

Ramos added three more but Ollivon was soon punished for bringing down the maul and the penalty try was awarded after a review. Allan soon made no mistake to slot his fourth penalty through the posts to give his side the lead for the first time in the 61st minute.

Five minutes later, however, France displayed their depth when Jalibert came off the bench and made an instant impact, scoring with his first touch to secure the bonus point.

source: theguardian.com