After the disappointing snoozefest that was the England/Wales game, we were excited to see a young, inexperienced French side go up against a seemingly rejuvenated and hungry Italian outfit. We saw notable inclusions in this French starting side including the re-introduction of Brice Dulin and Baptiste Serin, but this was largely an experimental 15 with just 6 caps the average from player to player. How did it go?
Although this was effectively a scratch-team for France there were some awesome performances littered throughout the side that could pair well with the existing starting line up. Whether it was the powerful, direct running of Danty, the silky and evasive agility of Villiere, or the continued great form of Jalibert, it's great to see depth within this French setup. Could you imagine the explosivity and creativity of a midfield consisting of Ntamack, Danty and Vakatawa with the likes of Jalibert and Barraque filling in during the final quarter? France also have two WORLD CLASS number 9's in Serin and Dupont too; something that's become increasingly hard to find over the last few years. Even just having the options and depth there for the likes of Macalou and Woki to be an impact sub in the future is mouth-watering; both of which carried well and jackaled effectively (Macalou just needs to work on his handling a fair whack). If this French side can build some chemistry together, they could have a really healthy and dominant squad.
More and More Kicking...
If you look at the headlines slapped across Rugby media at the moment, they largely follow the same story; international Rugby is boring because everyone kicks too much... Yes we know it's effective and teams who statistically blah blah blah, but everyone hates it, it feels like no teams are actually good at it and we are all thinking of rules to try and eliminate it. However, I did actually think the kicking game, in parts, was slightly more entertaining in this game than it was in the England/Wales match. Whether that was because Thomas was snatching at it woefully, perhaps even lethargically, all over the joint or because Dulin was a real force in the air collecting the ball, it just had a bit of the French unpredictability about it... Now that's not to say that we didn't have some howlers; the tennis we saw for the first hour between the back three of Italy and France was pretty rough viewing. This aimless, midfield, wild kicking just doesn't seem particularly effective; have the days of kicking to touch or kicking to contest really already gone?
The majority of the pre-game schpiel from pundits and commentators alike was based upon the inclusion of Macalou in the starting lineup. The 25 year old, Stade Français powerhouse ended up having a pretty hit or miss game, putting in some shuddering carries (even scoring in the final few minutes) and jackaled well all game; he did however drop the ball on three or four occasions and looked a bit indecisive in the open. Woki also carried very efficiently all game and grew into the match with each contact. He put in some great tackles, marshalled the fringes well and allowed Serin to put in a comfortable performance of his own. France are now beginning to mirror England in the back row department with Woki, Macalou, Ollivon, Cros and Alldritt all in contention moving into the Six Nations; all of which have had stellar years despite the circumstances.
1 Step Forward, 2 Steps Back
What to say about Italy that hasn't already been said. It's a second string French side with perhaps only one or two players who could be certified starters by this time next year, yet they still gave them a pumping. Steyn continues to be impressive, Canna always puts in a solid shift and Bigi always puts his body on the line in every hit; but that's about it for consistent talent in this squad. They looked second best in just about every area and have no identity whatsoever; is it any wonder that they haven't won a Six Nations game in 5 years? With Polledri out until summertime next year, my hope has started to dwindle despite them putting in a solid performance against Scotland. They have no real cutting edge, they constantly run out of steam at the 50 minute mark and look completely unsure of what game-plan to stick to.
Cameron Woki - Carried and tackled well throughout the match, made little to no errors and looked dynamic in the loose.
Jonathan Danty - Scored a great try from a sleek set-play, absolute powerhouse with ball in hand, our MOTM on the day.
Brice Dulin - Kicking was largely suspect but looked like a real threat with ball in hand, was on top form in the aerial arena, rarely made a mistake all game.
Paolo Garbisi - The 20 year old kicked the ball out on the full three times from open play, didn't get the backline on the front foot, missed his conversion.
Marco Lazzaroni - Largely anonymous throughout, couldn't cope with the French speed around the fringes.
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