It’s now official: spending a weekend in Rome no longer has the flavors of yesteryear for the Six Nations teams. If an azure sky overhung the Olympic Stadium in Rome, Sunday February 5, the French men’s rugby team did not give in to calls from the sweet life roman. Difficult winners of the transalpine XV, for their entry into the running in the Six Nations Tournament (29-24), the Blues rightly emphasized vigilance before the meeting. “The weather is nice, you might think there is an air of vacation but we know how much everything counts in the Tournament, each match, each try scored or conceded, warned Antoine Dupont on Saturday. We could take it easy but we are never safe. » Because for a year, the Italian Nazionale is no longer the expiatory victim on which the opponents of the Six Nations let off steam, on the sidelines of a Roman trip – sometimes embellished with “waffle” outings.
The Blues won and scored four tries – earning Rome an attacking bonus point. “On a purely accounting level, it’s a great result”, recognizes Anthony Jelonch. However, the Toulouse third line does not hesitate to talk about “a little mediocre match on our part”, joined by all of its partners. Opposed to invigorated and uninhibited Italians, the Blues had no trouble identifying their main shortcoming on Sunday: “our indiscipline is costing us dearly”, Jelonch breathes. With eighteen penalties conceded (against seven), difficult to prove the third line wrong, once again decisive on Sunday (20 successful tackles).
“It’s a mixed performance, which leaves us with a slightly bitter tasteexplains coach Fabien Galthié. A penalty is to offer a new possession to the opponent, and we move back thirty meters. We went back a lot, and it cost us dearly. It cut us off from a lot of strength in collective performance. » Everything had started well, however, for his troops. After half an hour of play, the Blues had scored three tries (by Thibaud Flament, Thomas Ramos then Ethan Dumortier), and mercilessly punished the few mistakes of the Italian defense. But their opponent, faithful to his new game principles, never gave up, sticking to the mark and developing an ambitious game.
The important Italian progress
“From now on, as soon as we can, we launch attacks, we try to put our opponents in difficulty and above all we no longer hesitate to counter-attackwarned the Italian captain, Michele Lamaro, before the competition. We have more confidence because we know we are dangerous, and it shows: we are happier playing with the ball. » Since their victory on the wire last year in Wales – following a ride from the back Ange Capuozzo – the Squadra azzura has experienced a click, and this young team has followed up with an exciting tour of autumn (victory against Australia, in particular).
From now on, Italy no longer plays to avoid taking the tide, but captain Lamaro’s teammates assume to start the meetings with the intention of winning them. “Things have really changed, today it took four questions before the one on promotion or relegation came up”, teased coach Kieran Crowley at the launch of the Tournament in late January. Still a year ago, the progress of Georgia and other tournament nations “secondary” wondered about Italy’s place within the Six Nations. A debate that seems far away today.
Exploiting – even provoking – French indiscipline, particularly in the ground game, Michele Lamaro’s teammates caught up with the mark on a penalty try, following yet another foul (accompanied by a yellow card for Charles Ollivon). And even took the lead less than a quarter of an hour from the end (24-22). “We played the best team in the world, which hasn’t lost for thirteen matches, and we looked them in the eye for 80 minutes”, savors Ange Capuozzo, the most French of the Transalpine – born and raised in rugby in Grenoble. A satisfaction tinged with disappointment, because Italy did not go far from achieving the second surprise of the tournament, a day after Scotland’s victory in England. “This tournament is extremely challenging, and no team is immune, insists the Stade Toulousain player, author of a new test in the transalpine jersey. There is satisfaction, but we can blame ourselves, because we had our destiny in our hands. »
For having known their share of infuriating “encouraging defeats” not so long ago, the Blues can attest to that. If Italy have not yet accumulated the experience necessary to extricate themselves from breathtaking endgames, their progress – greeted by a full and enthusiastic stadium – is striking. “We had our destiny in our hands. We lacked a bit of precision and that counts hard”concludes the Italian rear.
The “finishers” complete the match
In the XV of France according to Galthié, words are important. “I would rather talk about the finishers than the substitutes’ bench. It suits us average as a vocabulary”, resumed the tricolor coach on Friday, to a journalist who omitted that since the Lotois took office at the end of 2019, “finisher” is the consecrated expression. On Sunday, the players who started the match on the bench – even if coach Galthié objected that they spent most of the time standing, warming up – allowed the French to win.
On one of his first balloons, Matthieu Jalibert freed the XV of France, scoring a try allowing the Blues to go back to the top fifteen minutes from time, and to win the offensive bonus. Relaying Romain Ntamack, the Bordeaux opener benefited from the hard work of Romain Taofifenua, himself just started on the track. First on impact earlier in the action, the Lyon second line delivered an assist to his partner. “I’m starting to get used to this role, and I really like it.n, Taofifenua breath. I’m used to coming in at the end of matches where it’s a bit hot, so I’m pretty calm. »
If their game has not lacked dross, this serenity is shared by the Blues, acquired by dint of accumulating meetings for three years. “We have experienced much more serious scenarios, so experience played a role”, insists Antoine Dupont. On the hour mark, when Italy went ahead for the first time in the game, his teammates remained unmoved. “We feel that we are not in a good situation and that the dynamic is not good, but we knew that we were not taking on water”, continues the French captain. Youngest of the adventure – he celebrated his first cape on Sunday, illustrated in the mixed zone by a vintage FFR cap screwed on the skull –, Ethan Dumortier confirms. “Even if we hadn’t expected it to be so tight, our leaders know how to manage these weak times. And for a player like me, just follow their guidelinesexposes the Lyon winger, who scored his first try. Tonight, we went through a complicated time, but it did not cost us a defeat. »
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The last time a French team crowned with a grand slam landed on the banks of the Tiber, the Blues had fallen from above, not far – already – from a World Cup (beaten 21-22). This defeat in 2011 did not prevent Marc Lievremont’s players from then climbing to the World Cup final, only losing on the wire against the New Zealand hosts (7-8). If the meeting on Sunday “is a good booster shot”observes Anthony Jelonch, the French know that they must rectify the situation, after having escaped from the transalpine trap. “We know what awaits us next week in Ireland, we will have to be very disciplined, otherwise it will be complicated”, concludes the third line. Having pushed their series of victories in a row to fourteen (a record for the French team), the Blues are expecting a roaring welcome on Saturday in Dublin. And at a Roman week – they do not return to France to avoid multiplying trips – which will have nothing to do with holidays.