Plisson to the rescue as France scrape victory in Six Nations opener


Jules Plisson spared France's blushes as they escaped their Six Nations opener against Italy with a 23-21 victory.

Guy Noves' French revolution had threatened to get off to a false start as an inexperienced Italy side gave an excellent account of themselves at Stade de France, aided by the wayward kicking of France debutant Sebastien Bezy.

However, trailing 18-10, a Hugo Bonneval try just short of the hour mark gave France hope and a change in kicker proved pivotal.

Having watched scrum-half Bezy miss three opportunities from the tee, number 10 Plisson was faultless in kicking the eight points that sealed a French victory - his last effort a monster of a strike from close to the halfway line.

Italy started strongly and David Odiete was unfortunate to see the ball slip from his grasp as he went to collect a high ball after six minutes.

It was Carlo Canna who eventually gave the visitors the lead through a well-taken drop goal, before Bezy fired wide with a chance to restore parity from the tee.

France were soon in front, though, when sevens specialist Virimi Vakatawa stepped inside the last defender in the corner to apply a classy finish to a well-worked French move - the Fiji-born wing's left boot flirting dangerously with the touchline amid suggestions of a forward pass.

Bezy was again unsuccessful with the boot as France's advantage stayed at two points, while injury forced number eight Louis Picamoles to leave the field - he later re-emerged from the tunnel on crutches.

Odiete was frustrated once again when the ball evaded his clutches at the crucial moment, before Sergio Parisse steered a drive over for Italy's first try.

Canna failed to add the extras and France responded through Damien Chouly, who touched down in the corner following a quickly taken penalty that was awarded for a deliberate Parisse knock-on.

Bezy's luck did not improve, but neither did that of Canna, who missed with a chance to send Italy in with a half-time lead, while Michele Campagnaro came agonisingly close to scoring a try seconds from the whistle when he was hauled down just short of the whitewash.

Canna finally split the posts from the tee early in the second period to put Italy back in front and was on hand to touch down after Parisse had made good ground, before kicking the visitors into an 18-10 lead.

France swapped kickers after Bonneval crossed down the left as the match approached the hour mark, with Plisson pulling the hosts within a point.

And it was Plisson who proved the difference.

Kelly Haimona managed one more penalty for Italy, but it was not enough to outweigh Plisson's contribution, and Parisse's desperate attempt at a late drop-goal - having felt hard done by in giving away one of Plisson's penalties - was well off the mark.

Key Opta stats:

- France have won all nine games when they have begun their Six Nations campaign at home.
- However this was Les Bleus' narrowest victory over the Italians in the Six Nations. All of France's previous wins over Italy in the competition had come by 11+ points.
- Carlo Canna scored a drop goal for Italy in this game, Italy's sixth against France in the Six Nations overall. Only against Scotland have Italy scored as many drop goals in the competition.