Dulin bags bonus point as France beat Italy 40-18

Justin DAVIS
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Brice Dulin runs to score a try for France against Italy in Rome on March 11, 2017

Full back Brice Dulin ran in a late try to hand France their first bonus point and only second win in this year's Six Nations in a hard-fought 40-18 win over Italy in Rome Saturday.

With only win and two tries scored in three matches, Les Bleus travelled to the Stadio Olimpico looking to redress the balance of a largely underwhelming campaign.

There was a distinct lack of French flair in the Italian capital, where Azzurri captain Sergio Parisse touched down after three minutes to spark celebrations a week after running England close in a controversial 36-15 loss at Twickenham.

But an error-strewn display, peppered by dozens of missed tackles and ill-discipline by the hosts handed the momentum to Guy Noves's visitors, who saw Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Louis Picamoles and Dulin all touch over.

It was France's first win since beating Scotland in Paris last month and Italy's fourth reverse in succession following defeats to Wales (33-7), Ireland (63-10) and England.

Yet despite glimpses of promise, Noves said: "We're happy with the win, but less so about a lot of other aspects of our game.

"My biggest pleasure was seeing how happy the players were after scoring three tries to secure the win, and a fourth that got us the bonus point."

Italy conceded their fourth tournament defeat under Conor O'Shea, who had steered the Azzurri to an historic 20-18 win over South Africa in the November series.

But after seeing the Azzurri miss 53 tackles to France's 12, skipper Parisse was quick to criticise his side: "We missed a lot of tackles and we conceded a lot of penalties in the scrum.

"We also spent a lot of time in the French 22, and didn't manage to touch over. When you concede 40 points, it's hard. We're not looking for excuses."

Former Ireland full-back O'Shea quickly affirmed that "France are better than us".

But he added: "I'm very proud of this group because they always play against the odds, and they always show spirit."

Italy had sparked controversy last week in England with 'no ruck' tactics that baffled their opponents and left rugby officials scrambling to review the rules.

But a more positive approach looked on the cards when Parisse touched down early after fly-half Carlo Canna's superb dummy drew two players to let his captain run through.

Canna missed the conversion and France reduced arrears when Camille Lopez hit the first of 20 points with the boot thanks to a ninth-minute penalty.

Italy had dominated the opening period but a series of impressive runs and offloads between wing Remi Lamerat and Vakatawa set Fickou free on the 22 metre line to touch down unchallenged on 21 minutes.

Lopez hit the conversion for a 13-8 lead and suddenly the pressure was on Italy.

A Canna penalty reduced arrears to 13-11 but France took their half-time advantage to 16-11 when Lopez hit a penalty following a high tackle.

Italy were under the cosh from the restart when Fickou's grubber kick towards the tryline sparked panic.

Minutes later, France won the penalty advantage and when scrum-half Baptiste Serin fed Lopez, he offloaded for Vakatawa to run in underneath the posts on 48 minutes.

Lopez kicked the easy conversion for a 26-11 lead and France would have had their third if not for Edoardo Padovani's superb saving tackle on Vakatawa after he was sent through by Fickou.

Giorgio Bronzini replaced Padovani and minutes later looked to have relaunched the hosts after powering over the line with Picamoles and one other player on either arm.

But after video referral, New Zealand referee Ben O'Keeffe ruled no try.

Parisse added: "They refused us a try that was a game-changer for us."

It was a significant blow for the hosts, and as Italian heads dropped France stuck the knife in.

At a line-out deep in Italian territory, Kevin Gourdon offloaded for Dulin to run clear of the Italian defence to score.

A late Italian fightback saw Esposito touch down in the final minute, allowing Canna to make amends for his earlier miss, but it was too little, too late.