What a finish. What a game. What a shambles France were; but how brilliant Italy were and how they completely deserved their victory. This was no fluke, they went toe-to-toe with France and beat them at their own game.
Driven on by a wonderful atmosphere and the presence of former Italian internationals they mixed Latin flair, running from deep and trying impossible passes with a more Celtic pragmatism, taking the points on offer.
The first try, finished off – inevitably – by Sergio Parisse, was a real end-to-end affair, Italy counter-attacking after a French counter had broken down. A wonderful arcing run from Luciano Orquera made the break and Parisse finished it.
Parisse would be involved in their second try, dotted down by Martin Castrogiovanni after more sterling work from Orquera, sensibly holding onto the ball when tackled on the left wing on the halfway line. As Italy kept the ball, resisted the temptation to fling passes out of the tackle, recycled, recycled, stayed patient, they got their rewards with Orquera drawing in three tacklers á la O’Driscoll and offloading to Castrogiovanni.
It was a triumph for a team who can be frustrating to watch. When it mattered, they cut the error count down to zero, ground France down and finished them off.
Prior to that, France had looked more clinical; their first half tries coming from virtually their only serious forays into Italian territory. Wesley Fofana looked dangerous when coming in off his wing but his one break of note saw him with Fulgence Ouedraogo for company and the move went no further.
Aside from that, their lineout was a shambles and Italy didn’t put it under much pressure or look to kick for touch to do so. Even the French scrum was made to look ordinary at times and they looked far removed from the team that has thrilled and entertained over the years. You hardly knew that Thierry Dusautoir was on the pitch at times, so quiet was he kept by Italy.
Italy played the smart game. Drop goals from Orquera early on and Kris Burton late were intelligent moves, on both occasions stretching their lead and made sure that they made their territorial advantage pay. Then they defended as if their lives depending on it to hold off France’s final charge. They truly earned this win.
For years, Italy have struggled to find someone who can kick for goal reliably and run the midfield. For this game at least, they had generals all over the park in Parisse, scrum-half Tobias Botes and the fly-halves.
When it came down the the crunch, France had none.