A review of the final match in Pool A between France and Italy.
France are turning up with basically a fully loaded side, allowing for injuries. Lucu and Jalibert are the halfbacks in the absence of Dupont, recreating their club pairing from Bordeaux. Baille remains at loosehead, working his way back to full fitness before the quarterfinals. There is a bit of a shuffle in the backrow, with Alldritt replacing Cros, who drops to the bench. This is probably a rotation policy more than anything. If Dupont and Marchand aren’t fit to play next week, this will probably be the starting team – if they are playing South Africa the bench might shift a little if Galthié goes for a 6-2 split.
Italy have made more changes, largely positional, with Capuozzo shifting to fullback, Allan coming up to 10 and Garbisi moving out one to 12. This double playmaker structure has looked good for Italy in some games, but will it trouble the French? The pack has seen a rejig in all three rows, with Ferrari swapping sides to pack at loosehead for the second time in his career, up again Atonio. Good luck with that!
France: Ramos, Penaud, Fickou, Danty, Bielle-Biarrey, Jalibert, Lucu, Alldritt, Ollivon (c), Jelonch, Flament, Woki, Atonio, Mauvaka, Baille
Replacements: Bourgarit, Wardi, Aldegheri, Taofifenua, Cros, Couilloud, Moefana, Jaminet
Italy: Capuozzo, Bruno, Brex, Garbisi, Ioane, Allan, Varney, Cannone, Lamaro (c), Negri, Ruzza, Cannone, Ceccarelli, Faiva, Ferrari
Replacements: Manfredi, Zani, Riccioni, Sisi, Zuliani, Fusco, Morisi, Pani
Why this matters
If Italy win with a bonus point, they could knock France out, unless the French score two points (losing bonus point and score four tries). It gets complicated if exactly this happens but I think Italy loses on points difference in the tie breaker.
France simply need to win to top the group. That would put them on 17 points (18 if they get a try bonus point), ahead of New Zealand.
Because New Zealand beat Uruguay, Italy are guaranteed third place regardless of the outcome. I think they were anyway. If Uruguay had demolished the world order and beaten New Zealand with a bonus point, they’d be equal on points with Italy before this match was played but lose on the first tie-breaker because Italy had beaten them in their head-to-head.
France started with a roar, scoring at a point a minute for the first 24 minutes and destroying the Italian lineout in every way you can imagine. Even if it worked, they couldn’t get the ball out of the maul, if they managed that, they couldn’t get any distance on the kick to touch.
Then the Italians suddenly woke up. Bielle-Biarrey stopped what looked like a certain try. Capuozzo received a bang to the head from a friendly knee during this period and was taken off for an HIA which he failed. During this period of pressure there was a clear out with contact to the chest rising up to head that called an Italian try back. Just after that the French messed up their lineout but Garbisi tried to bite off a bit too much territory, the French monstered the scrum, and scored a beautiful try. Bonus point before half-time. Ramos missed a penalty on the stroke of half time.
Although the scoreboard is really lopsided, Italy have played much more positively than they did against New Zealand, at least in parts.
Halftime score 32-0
The second half felt more even than the first and the scoreboard would suggest that was true. France won the second half 28-7, which is a better Italian performance. However, I suspect the wider stats won’t show much difference between the halves (the stats on the RWC app show no difference between the two) but the Italians spread their 15 or so minutes out into appreciable chunks, three to five minutes long say, through the half, scoring on one of them.
Unfortunately France scored four more tries which rather overshadowed the effort. Penaud scored two tries which moved him into second on the French all time scorers list. Three more at this World Cup would make him the highest scoring man at a single World Cup with nine. (Portia Woodman scored 13 at the 2017 World Cup for the all time record.) Although he doesn’t need them all at this tournament, three more would put him equal top with Blanco on the French all-time list.
The Italian try being disallowed in the first half. Italy were already 24 points down but if they’d scored then, they might have gained confidence and fought back into it. Instead an unusual series of events led to France skipping down the field with two almost back-to-back penalties and scoring their fourth try.
Player of the Match
Ramos, Penaud, Bielle-Biarrey were all impressive in attack, Danty and Fickou in defence, Woki and Mauvaka were menacing among the forwards in and out of set pieces. But Jalibert has really come into his own after a string of games in the 10 jersey and made two lovely tries as well as getting France in the right places today. He’s my MotM and the official selection team wisely agreed.
Pool A roundup
We know France are going through as winners, New Zealand as runners up. Italy have qualified for 2027 by finishing third. Although they need to qualify, Uruguay impressed a lot of people with their performances and I’d like to see more of them please.