Only England can now stop France from winning their first Grand Slam for six years after Les Bleus blew away Italy in Paris to put one hand on the RBS Six Nations trophy. And Nick Mallett, the Italy coach, was last night confident the French will take the title after they totally dominated his side.
Two tries from David Marty within the space of eight minutes, both while the visitors were down to 14 men as Gonzalo Garcia was sin-binned, set up the 46-20 victory - France's 11th consecutive win over the Azzurri in this tournament. "It was the worst match we played for a year. We are disappointed and our defence was very poor," said Mallett. "They were made to look a lot better by our missed tackles but some of our players were well off their best. We have to be 100 per cent to compete and we weren't - but I was very pleased with two tries we scored. The French are a very good team, the best in this championship. They will win the Grand Slam."
Marc Andreu, the winger, and Alexandre Lapandry, a flanker, scored their first tries for France, while Imanol Harinordoquy and Yannick Jauzion also crossed. Morgan Parra kicked seven goals from nine attempts to give the impressive home side a 46-6 lead. Italy salvaged some pride with a late rally, as substitutes Carlo Del Fava and Pablo Canavosio crossed for tries. Mirco Bergamasco converted both times to add an air of respectability to the loss.
Marc Lievremont, the France coach, made two changes to the team that won in Wales last week, relegating centre Mathieu Bastareaud to the bench in favour of Marty and bringing Andreu on to the wing in place of Julien Malzieu. Winger Andrea Masi, who plays his club rugby in Paris for Racing Metro, made his 50th appearance for Italy and he was quickly put under pressure as France attacked down his wing and it was not long before Harinordoquy crossed after Parra had jinked his way through the Italian defence. Parra added the conversion and kicked a penalty to set the tone for the match.
The Italians' cause was made all the more difficult after 17 minutes when their centre Garcia, fresh from a spell in the blood bin, was sent to the sin bin for an obstruction of Andreu, who had been released towards the touchline by full-back Clement Poitrenaud. The home side made the extra man count as Marty coasted through a gap in the stretched defence to score his side's second try. Poitrenaud demonstrated his attacking flair again after 27 minutes to help Harinordoquy into space. He sent Marty over for his second try while the Italians were still down to 14 men. Parra missed the conversion from Marty's second try, ending his 100 per cent record. When the visitors managed to breach the French defence, second rower Marco Bortolami was recalled for a forward pass by Garcia.
Mallett withdrew Italy's scrum half, Tito Tebaldi, in favour of the more experienced Pablo Canavosio. They finally got points on the board just before the break when Mirco Bergamasco landed a 40-metre penalty after Marty was ruled offside. That encouraged the visitors, but Canavosio was unable to break through with their best chance to make inroads into the score. Andreu marked his home debut with a stunning try. He came in off his wing on a scything run from the wing to cross, then instigated the move that Jauzion finished off.
When Parra converted Lapandry's try after 65 minutes to give France a 40-point advantage it looked like Italy would return home on the wrong end of a hiding. Instead they produced a late rally, with Del Fava and Canavosio scoring late consolation tries. * With agencies