|Italy: (14) 24
|Try: Capuozzo, Penalty Pen: Allan 4
|France: (19) 29
|Tries: Flament, Ramos, Dumortier, Jalibert Pen: Ramos Con: Ramos 3
Defending champions France came from behind to avoid a shock defeat against Italy in a thrilling Six Nations game.
The Azzurri led 24-22 before Matthieu Jalibert sniped over from close range as France claimed a bonus-point win.
The visitors looked comfortable thanks to first-half tries by Thibaud Flament, Thomas Ramos and Ethan Dumortier.
But Ange Capuozzo crossed before Italy were awarded a penalty try and Tommaso Allan kicked four penalties – but the hosts could not hang on in Rome.
Victory for France stretches their unbeaten run to 14 matches, a sequence that includes Fabien Galthie’s side claiming the Grand Slam last year.
They travel to Dublin to face world number one-ranked Ireland on Saturday while Italy play England at Twickenham the following day.
France’s winning mentality prevails
France won every game they played in 2022 and they will have wanted to start the new year with a statement victory and performance with their home World Cup seven months away.
It started according to the plan as Flament latched on to a loose Italian pass to run clear and score the opening try with an interception.
Ramos was the beneficiary when Romain Ntamack’s intended cross-field kick for Damian Penaud was palmed back to the full-back to dot down for the second.
Ntamack was more accurate with his next attempt at kicking wide, measuring his assist to perfection for Dumortier to claim the ball without breaking stride and score a try on his international debut.
Despite being three tries behind, Italy were on the scoreboard courtesy of Allan’s boot, and gained reward for their eagerness to play with dynamism as the exciting Capuozzo produced a breathtaking finish to score the hosts’ first try.
A penalty try after the interval – with former France captain Charles Ollivon sent to the sin bin in the process – and another Allan penalty sailing between the posts saw Italy take the lead and threaten to spring a huge surprise on the opening weekend.
But France are not among the favourites for the World Cup for nothing and their winning mentality prevailed as they got back in front when replacement Jalibert cut back inside and powered over for his side’s fourth try.
The victory, including a hard-earned bonus point, maintains France’s winning run and sets them up for what will surely be a titanic game against Ireland.
Italy, meanwhile, will gain huge confidence from running the much-vaunted visitors close on the back of beating Australia in the autumn.
They will be disappointed to have missed out in a first Six Nations home win since 2013 but at least their efforts secured a losing bonus point.
They will go to Twickenham next weekend expecting to make life very difficult for England.
What they said
France head coach Fabien Galthie: “There were some positives because we won and also got the bonus point, but the performance was not good.
“Our behaviour was sanctioned, we got a yellow card and made fouls when we were not in danger.
“Discipline is a part of rugby. It’s something we can correct quickly.”
Italy fly-half Tommaso Allan told ITV: “It’s quite tough to swallow this defeat. We had our chances. In the first half we had too many errors and gave 19 points to the French off our mistakes
“We have to find our balance of execution. We will be more diligent the more we do. There’s a lot of positives to take from this and are very confident for next week’s game.
“It’s small margins. We’re improving every week. We have to start winning as well now. We know we can win. We showed some good rugby today.”
Italy: Capuozzo; Bruno, Brex, Morisi, Menoncello; Allan, Varney; Fischetti, Nicotera, Ferrari, Cannone, Ruzza, Negri, Lamaro (capt), Cannone.
Replacements: Bigi, Zani, Ceccarelli, Iachizzi, Pettinelli, Zuliani, Fusco, Padovani.
France: Ramos; Penaud, Fickou, Moefana, Dumortier; Ntamack, Dupont (capt); Baille, Marchand, Atonio, Flament, Willemse, Jelonch, Ollivon, Alldritt.
Replacements: Barlot, Wardi, Falatea, Taofifenua, Lavault, Macalou, Le Garrec, Jalibert.
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Touch judges: Nic Berry (Australia) & Jordan Way (Australia)
TMO: Ben Whitehouse (Wales)