South Africa

France thrash Italy to reach Rugby World Cup quarters

France v Italy

Damian Penaud edged closer to Serge Blanco’s France try record as Les Bleus secured a Rugby World Cup quarter-final with a 60-7 thumping of sorry Italy on Friday.

Penaud, 26, scored two tries and created a third with a deft chip as he moved to within three of France great Blanco’s record of 38 tries for his country.

Victory ensured France topped Pool A with a perfect record of four wins from four and they will play one of Ireland, Scotland and South Africa in the last eight.

They will know their opponents after the Irish take on the Scots at the Stade de France in Paris on Saturday.

“The contract has been fulfilled,” said Maxime Lucu, who brilliantly covered the absent Antoine Dupont at scrum-half.

“We knew that if we lost, we’d be eliminated, so today we won. And we did it in style, so we’re happy.

“We wanted to put things in order. We wanted to show discipline and realism, and that’s what we did from the start.”

This was not quite the unstoppable try-fest New Zealand inflicted on Italy a week ago in a 96-17 hammering, but there was nonetheless a gulf in class between two sides that had been separated only by five points in the Six Nations in February.

“It was a 23-player game today and I am happy for everyone,” said No.8 Gregory Alldritt.

“We are going to enjoy the weekend, it was a tough game. We will now prepare for the quarter-final.”

Such was Penaud’s brilliance, it was almost possible to forget that France captain and talisman Dupont was out injured with a fractured cheekbone, which had dominated the news in the build-up to this game.

Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Thomas Ramos, who scored 20 points, Matthieu Jalibert, Peato Mauvaka and Yoram Moefana with two also scored in this eight-try romp.

Quick off the mark

It took only two minutes for France to strike, as Les Bleus went through the phases and then quick hands sent the predatory Penaud over for his 34th France try.

That took him level with Vincent Clerc as France’s second highest try-scorer.

Penaud then turned provider.

Having fluffed a grubber kick for Bielle-Biarrey to run onto, he soon adjusted his aim and sent a chip for the wing to gather and then jink inside and out to beat three defenders and score.

France were pummelling Italy up front and their backs were reaping the rewards of the space created, with Ramos next to scamper over in the corner.

– Moefana double –

Italy tried to make a fist of it but after a searing break in their backs, Tommaso Allan spilled the ball just metres from the tryline.

Italy prop Simone Ferrari thought he had scored but he was dubiously penalised for an earlier high clear-out at a ruck and France’s tryline remained unbreached.

The Azzurri had enjoyed a good spell of pressure but in a flash, they had conceded again as Jalibert chipped the ball into a gaping hole where Penaud — who else? — collected to cross the whitewash.

Ramos converted all four tries and a penalty to send France into the sheds leading 31-0.

“We started the game perfectly,” said fly-half Jalibert.

“We knew they were mentally fragile after what happened last week. We knew we had to start strong and if we scored early it would be easier and that’s what we were able to do.

“It’s very satisfying that we lasted 80 minutes with increased intensity.”

More of the same

It was more of the same after the break as Jalibert sold a dummy to Juan Ignacio Brex and then turned a forward inside out and scored.

France’s forwards finally got their reward from a line-out drive as Mauvaka broke off against a non-existant defence to power over.

France’s defence was as impressive as their attack, batting Italy back time and again.

At the other end they were ravenous, with replacement centre Moefana next to cross.

Italy did at least end their World Cup campaign with a try from Manuel Zuliani, converted by Allan.

But Moefana had the last word with his second as Italy finished Pool A in third, behind New Zealand who also progressed to the knock-out stages.