France vic­tory comes at a cost as Huget limps out of the tour­na­ment

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - Steve James RUGBY COR­RE­SPON­DENT at Twick­en­ham

A con­vinc­ing vic­tory for France, but it came in a scrappy and un­sat­is­fy­ing en­counter, with the re­sult never in doubt and with both sides los­ing play­ers to tour­na­ment-end­ing in­juries — An­drea Masi for Italy and Yoann Huget for France.

It was al­ways go­ing to be a dif­fi­cult task to live up to the ear­lier events in Brighton, even if there was a rau­cous at­mos­phere from a crowd that ap­peared to fill more of the ground than the fig­ure of 76,232 that was an­nounced. It looked full. “It was the first time I have heard a French Twick­en­ham,” said France head coach Philippe Sain­tAn­dre. And, boy, for long pe­ri­ods did both sides make it dif­fi­cult es­pe­cially in the first half, with their moun­tain of er­rors and their in­dis­ci­pline that led to far too much blow­ing of the whis­tle.

The out­stand­ing play­ers were the usual sus­pects. For France, No 8 Louis Pi­camoles was ab­so­lutely moun­tain­ous, a huge pres­ence on the carry, just as his skip­per Thierry Dusautoir was huge in the tackle. How these two must de­spair some­times when their hard work is wasted with profli­gacy in the back­line. Out there France were miss­ing Wes­ley Fo­fana but Mathieu Bastareaud was still run­ning hard, as he does. But too of­ten mis­takes were made. “We need more pa­tience,” said Saint-An­dre. “Maybe we tried some passes that were im­pos­si­ble.”

For Italy, cap­tain and hooker Leonardo Ghi­ral­dini was su­perb, car­ry­ing re­lent­lessly and al­ways at the heart of their work. But he lacked sup­port and his team’s scrum­mage was wob­bly, where they were pe­nalised mer­ci­lessly. And most of his team lacked dis­ci­pline.

Fred­eric Micha­lak, as un­pre­dictable as ever, had hit a post with his first pen- alty but made no mis­take min­utes later to give France a 3-0 lead. They thought it was 8-0 soon af­ter­wards when winger Noa Nakaitaci ap­peared to score in the cor­ner af­ter Pi­camoles’ pass had come off the back of Leonardo Sarto.

Nakaitaci should re­ally have scored and it would have been just re­ward for the build-up work of Alexan­dre Du­moulin, but it made a real hash of it.

Not that the TMO re­alised upon his first view­ing in a rather far­ci­cal mo­ment. He was only look­ing to see if the pass from Pi­camoles had gone for­ward. Not that it would have taken much just to glance a frame for­ward and see the truth. It was not un­til ref­eree Craig Jou­bert saw the replay on the big screen that he called for another re­view and even­tu­ally the cor­rect de­ci­sion was made.

Much has been made of the use of the TMO, and it was em­bar­rass­ing that Shaun Velds­man, another South African hav­ing a bad day, did not spot the spill first time, but at least we got there in the end. You do not want mil­lions watch­ing on tele­vi­sion know­ing it was not a try and it still stand­ing. The TMO must stay. As is of­ten the case with tech­nol­ogy in sport, it is of­ten those us­ing it that are the prob­lem, not the tech­nol­ogy it­self.

As it was, Jou­bert came back for a French penalty in front of the posts, with Italy be­ing pinged con­sis­tently at this point, and Micha­lak slot­ted it to make it 6-0. To­masso Allan should have made it 6-3 with his first penalty at­tempt, but he shanked it badly. And then Micha­lak hit the post again with another penalty. It was hardly a kick­ing mas­ter­class. Lit­tle won­der we then had the first Mex­i­can wave of the evening. That is never a good sign.

More se­ri­ous was the in­jury suf­fered by the ex­cel­lent Masi. He was taken off with a snapped Achilles ten­don. “It is the third cen­tre we have lost,” lamented coach Jac­ques Brunel. “We don’t have a lot of re­sources left in that po­si­tion.” France be­gan to thread some phases to­gether, with Pi­camoles and Bastareaud prom­i­nent, and were re­warded with another penalty that Micha­lak kicked. It was 9-0.

At last, though, Italy got them­selves mov­ing on the score­board when Allan kicked a dif­fi­cult penalty af­ter a scrum­mage in­fringe­ment.

The frus­trat­ing na­ture of events con­tin­ued, though, as this time France won a penalty at the scrum­mage just in­side their own half and up stepped full-back Scott Sped­ding, their spe­cial­ist long range place-kicker. It is al­ways so use­ful to have such a player in your side — it was how Leigh Half­penny be­gan his kick­ing ca­reer for Wales — and Sped­ding duly landed a mon­strous kick.

Soon af­ter­wards there was a much eas­ier op­por­tu­nity and the du­ties re­verted to Micha­lak, who kicked it to make it 15-3 at half time.

The sec­ond half had only just be­gun when Micha­lak added another penalty af­ter Martin Castrogiovanni was caught off­side. Then, at last, came a try. It was pretty good too. Nakaitaci es­caped down the left and found Guil­hem Guirado in­side. The hooker so very nearly scored un­der the posts, but the ball was re­cy­cled and went right and back left be­fore Micha­lak put a lovely grub­ber through for tight­head prop Rabah Sli­mani to score. Micha­lak con­verted and it was 25-3. That was game over, and the game’s best mo­ment gone.

Italy did re­spond with a pow­er­ful driv­ing line-out and when Edoardo Gori took a quick tap he so nearly scored. France turned the ball over and promptly fum­bled it so that Gori nearly scored again. But he had not got a hand on the ball.

Not that Italy were done. The pres­sure con­tin­ued and even­tu­ally af­ter eight phases space was found for winger Gio­van­bat­tista Ven­ditti on the right to score. Allan con­verted.

French winger Huget then suf­fered a nasty-look­ing knee in­jury. “The news is not very re­as­sur­ing,” said Saint-An­dre. “It looks like a cru­ci­ate lig­a­ment in­jury. He will have a scan and we will make a de­ci­sion quickly. He’s a very im­por­tant player and a lot of play­ers from Toulouse are in this team and af­ter­wards for four or five min­utes we were quite shaky.” And Italy were throw­ing ev­ery­thing at France as Allan kicked a penalty to the cor­ner. But the drive was re­pelled and France won a penalty.

France, too, were kick­ing for the cor­ner but they were equally sloppy, with the in­evitable raft of re­place­ments hav­ing ar­rived and any co­he­sion that had clicked in the early part of the sec­ond half dis­ap­pear­ing.

That was un­til af­ter another driv­ing line-out from which re­place­ment prop Ni­co­las Mas man­aged to put the ball against the bot­tom of the post to score France’s sec­ond try. Micha­lak con­verted. It was 32-10. And that was how it re­mained.

Un­stop­pable: France prop Rabah Sli­mani thunders through for a try against Italy

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