France raced to an early lead, and dominated the opening 20 minutes of the match with tries from Teddy Thomas and Charles Ollivon. Although Paris had windy conditions to contend with, making kicking difficult, it still looked as though Fabien Galthie’s side would win comfortably.
However, a combination of a tactical change by Italy and a loss of enthusiasm by France meant the visitors clawed their way back into the game, with the final score being 35-22.
This is an all too common theme for Les Bleus, where they have managed to inexplicably slump to losses. Their 16-0 halftime lead against Wales in last year’s Six Nations was an example of that, as was their loss to the same opponents at the Rugby World Cup.
Even last week, England mounted a comeback from being 24-0 down, and if it was not for their inability to finish, they could have won the game.
Second week in a row where France have started very well and looked very shaky in the 2nd half. The consistency still isn't there. #FRAvITA
— Hugo Gordon (@HugoGordon1) February 9, 2020
The stamina of the French has been the biggest issue over the past ten years, as a result of opting for larger packs and the fitness requirements of the Top 14. While their tempo did drop in the second half on Sunday, Italy did actually look to be worse for wear. But poor fitness often contributes to an increase in penalties as the game goes on and a weakening of the defence, which was prevalent in the Stade de France.
France being very french in this second half. #6Nations
— Simon Walker (@Simon_No10) February 9, 2020
In the 2nd half, France were, well, France. Lost concentration & discipline. Italy played well. Then a brilliant individual try from Serin followed by an equally good score from Bellini. Quick conversion & then Italy kick the ball out??? #FRAvITA #6Nations2020
— Robert Weaver (@Wingman1882) February 9, 2020
However, under Shaun Edwards, fitness should not be an issue for France, as it never was for Wales either. Being the taskmaster that the defence coach is, he demands a huge amount from his players, and their ruthless defence against England was a product of his demands. Then again, he has not been with France long, and it will take a while for a radical overhaul from the coach.
— Iseult Cody (@iseultcody) February 9, 2020
It was predicted that France’s lack of experience would also cost them this Championship, and this would usually be highlighted in the latter stages of a match when fatigue and pressure are increased. Some of the decisions by France as to where to play the game often put Italy in good positions, and the week before they looked evidently flustered when Eddie Jones’ were catching up with them.
— Kirsten Walthall (@K_Walthall) February 9, 2020
Of course, after only two games in this new era of French rugby under Galthie there are more positives than negatives. Their two first half performances in the Six Nations so far are worthy of a Championship-winning team. But with a visit to the Principality Stadium next round, their concentration cannot dip over the course of 80 minutes or Wales will capitalise.
Watch: Eddie Jones warns against Six Nations expansion
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