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March 16, 2010

Posted on 03/16/2010

The Italian job

I must apologise for the lack of imagination when it comes to the title of my latest post but there is more behind it than just a well-worn pun.

The latest Franco-Italian clash was a remake of many of the previous meetings between the two countries such was its one-sided nature and France's performance was also familiar - an impressive display from the pack, an interesting defensive showing (at least until the 65th minute) and some poor kicking.

The 2003 big screen version of The Italian Job failed to match the classic 1969 original but at least tried attempted a different take on the heist movie theme. And in the same way Sunday's game had a little more to offer than previous efforts.

France held more or less the same advantage at half-time as they did against Wales but this time they at least waited until the last quarter of an hour before letting their minds drift. Evidently, Les Bleus still have plenty of some work to do until they can lay claim to being as clinical as their southern hemisphere rivals.

What was much more interesting was the team's general approach. Instead of just trying to stretch the Italian defence from side to side they also tried to jump into the sizeable gaps left by the visitors. And it paid off with three out of their six tries coming in that manner. As a result, it now offers coach Marc Lievremont another tactical option in addition to the favoured pick and go from the pack, the pace of the wingers or the power of Yannick Jauzion and Mathieu Bastareaud.

After racing to a 17-0 lead within 17 minutes, the result was never really in doubt and arguably the most emotional moment of the afternoon came at half time, when a host of French rugby legends were presented to the crowd. As part of the celebrations of the 100th anniversary of France's debut in the Championship, the use of great names such as Abdelatif Benazzi, Richard Astre, Jeff Tordo, Pierre Berbizier, Michel Crauste, Serge Blanco, Walter Spanghero, Pierre Villepreux, Fabien Pelous, Philippe Sella and many others was a great idea - especially because the Stade de France was packed with young faces who were attending their first international perhaps unaware of the influence these men have had on the game we love.

Together they are responsible for some of the greatest moments in French rugby history and they will surely be joined by a new generation on Saturday when England are the latest visitors to Paris.

Jean Palfrey


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