ROME – France beat Italy 29-0 in a turgid, error-strewn match in the Six Nations on Sunday, with little at stake for either side apart from pride.
Yoann Maestri scored the opening try at the start of the second half after a fantastic break from Scott Spedding, in one of the few moments of quality at a rainy Stadio Olimpico.
Replacement Mathieu Bastareaud added another right at the end of a dire match which saw 37 handling errors.
It was the first time Italy had failed to score at home since joining the Six Nations in 2000. The last time it failed to score at all was 10 years ago, away to France.
It was a miserable way for captain Sergio Parisse to celebrate becoming Italy’s most capped player, with his 112th appearance, overtaking the injured Marco Bortolami.
Italy had only itself to blame for going in at the break 9-0 down after giving away penalties in relatively easy positions and some miserable goal-kicking of its own.
France, which is two points behind the top three, can mathematically still win the tournament, although it would take a series of shocking results in next weekend’s final round.
France plays England at Twickenham, with Wales visiting Italy and Ireland playing Scotland at Murrayfield.
Both France and Italy came into the match with one win and two defeats but in very different moods.
France had seen its Six Nations hopes evaporate following back-to-back defeats, while Italy was full of confidence after beating Scotland to all but ensure it avoids the wooden spoon.
Italy was hoping to beat France for the third successive time in Rome but was hampered by fitness problems. Coach Jacques Brunel’s three changes to the team which beat Scotland were all enforced because of injuries and fly-half Kelly Haimona was a late withdrawal after also injuring himself in training.
Haimona’s replacement, Tomasso Allan, tweaked his groin in the warmup and, although he started the match with heavy strapping, he had to be replaced by Luciano Orquera in the 13th.
There was a minute’s silence before kick-off in memory of the three French athletes killed in a helicopter crash in Argentina while making a reality television series.
Italy had a chance to take an early lead but Allan, who was clearly suffering, kicked a penalty wide, while Orquera sent his effort crashing off the right post from a tricky position in the 15th minute.
Spedding also sent an effort wide before France finally put some points on the board in the 29th minute with a Lopez penalty from 45 meters after an Italy knock-on.
Lopez added another penalty and almost helped France score a try with a mazy run past several defenders but his offload bounced off Gael Fickou’s knee.
Spedding extended France’s advantage with an easy kick from the 22 on the stroke of halftime.