France matched Ireland’s unbeaten start to the Six Nations after a second-half try blitz sparked an emphatic 30-10 victory over Italy in Paris.
No 8 Louis Picamoles, centre Wesley Fofana and debutant wing Hugo Bonneval all crossed during a devastating nine-minute spell early in the second period as France triumphed.
But the closing stages will be remembered for red cards rather than running rugby, as South African official Jaco Peyper sent off substitute props Michele Rizzo and Rabah Slimani.
Italy forward Rizzo started the skirmish with a butt, and when Slimani reacted in similar fashion, Peyper brandished red cards after conferring with his assistant Craig Joubert and consulting replays.
Scrum-half Jean-Marc Doussain kicked three conversions and three penalties to underline France’s dominance, while Italy replied with a late Tommaso Ianonne try, converted by Luciano Orquera, and fly-half Tommaso Allan slotted a penalty.
France coach Philippe Saint-Andre made three changes from the side that inflicted a defeat on England last weekend, with Bonneval, hooker Dimitri Szarzewski and lock Yoann Maestri all called up.
Italy showed five switches after a 23-15 loss to Wales last time out, including experienced forwards Marco Bortolami and Alessandro Zanni being dropped to the bench.
Despite going into the contest as underdogs, Italy kept France scoreless during an error-strewn opening quarter, with Doussain and centre Gonzalo Garcia each missing two shots at goal.
It took France 27 minutes to break the deadlock when Doussain finally found his range, but Allan quickly cancelled that out before he missed an easy chance as Italy established some momentum through the powerful running of prop Alberto di Marchi.
Doussain, though, kicked two further penalties before the break, giving France a 9-3 interval advantage and setting them up for a strong second-half showing.
France did not disappoint, stunning Italy with two converted tries in as many minutes just after the restart. Picamoles powered over for the first from 15 metres, with Doussain adding the extras, then before Italy had time to regroup, they were undone by Fofana’s brilliance.
The Clermont Auvergne star broke two tackles on a surging run to the line for his ninth try in 23 Tests, and Doussain’s conversion meant France were 20 points clear.
Tempers frayed during the closing minutes. French lock Sebastien Vahaamahina was sent off for kicking the ball away, followed by Slimani and Rizzo.
“We needed to control better after the first half,” said Fofana. “That first try allowed us to do so as it calmed our nerves and then we could take our foot off the pedal.”