France Routs Italy 60-7 to Reach Rugby World Cup Quarterfinals in Style
15:26 JST, October 7, 2023
LYON, France — Damian Penaud extended his try-scoring streak to seven matches as Rugby World Cup host France blew apart Italy 60-7 to reach the quarterfinals in style on Friday.
France won Pool A ahead of New Zealand and will likely meet defending champion South Africa in the last quarterfinal next weekend. New Zealand will probably have to play top-ranked Ireland.
“Four games, four wins. This was an elimination match for us, we had no room to make mistakes,” France captain and flanker Charles Ollivon said. “We wanted to play with intensity and we did, we kept it up for 80 minutes.”
The Ireland-Scotland match on Saturday at Stade de France will determine how Pool B shakes out and confirm the quarterfinal opposition.
Italy was smashed by New Zealand 96-17 last week and was pumped up to rebound against its neighbor. But France, even without injured linchpin Antoine Dupont, was ready after a two-week break and took less than two minutes to score the first of its eight tries in a hugely impressive performance.
Les Tricolores equalled their highest score against Italy from 1967 and achieved the greatest margin ever. Only eight months ago in the Six Nations, France won 29-24.
“We approached the match in the best possible way, with the ball, the score, a lot of defensive doggedness when they had possession, good rucks,” France coach Fabien Galthie said. “Then, the problem for us, the French, the Latins, is that we relax a little and play less accurately. But we still finished the game with 60 points.”
Of course, Penaud got the first try, off his wing. Following pick-and-goes from hooker Peato Mauvaka, flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert and fullback Thomas Ramos combined to send the right winger into the left corner.
After Ramos converted and added a penalty, Penaud turned provider with an unexpected cross-field kick for Louis Bielle-Biarrey to score in the left corner.
Jalibert and Penaud combined to send Ramos over for the third try, and brilliant improvisation from Jalibert saw him kick off-balance to Penaud in the right corner for France’s fourth try.
Penaud’s brace for six tries in the tournament took him past Vincent Clerc on France’s all-time list to 35 tries. Only the great Serge Blanco has more, 38.
Italy prop Simone Ferrari had a try disallowed after he was harshly penalized for a chest-high tackle on Maxime Lucu — playing for the absent Dupont — in the buildup.
France led 31-0 at halftime, and took only seven minutes in the second half to resume the rout.
Jalibert helped himself when he darted in from close range from Ollivon’s pass; Mauvaka got try No. 6, and Jalibert’s looped pass put replacement Yoram Moefana into the right corner.
“We knew that if we lost, we’d be out. We won and in style,” Lucu said. “We put things into place, like discipline and efficiency.”
At least the Italians sent off departing coach Kieran Crowley with a consolation try when flanker Manuel Zuliani got over the line with 10 minutes left.
But there was still time for Moefana to barrel over from another Jalibert pass.
“We gave away a lot of penalties early on and then we just didn’t get any momentum because our breakdown work wasn’t good enough,” Crowley said. “They were just too physical, too powerful for us.”
Crowley was hired from Treviso in May 2021 after the disastrous 16-month reign of Franco Smith. He transformed the team’s fortunes by improving their fitness, discipline and attack, and earned notable wins against Wales and Australia. But the Italian federation didn’t want him anymore.
An emotional Crowley praised his players, the second youngest squad in the tournament.
“These boys, they’d die for you,” he said. “They’ve got a lot of pride. I just hope they start getting treated with a bit more respect after this. For the next World Cup cycle there will be a lot of players with 50 or 60 test matches by then so that will be good.”
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