Monday 6 February 2023 Dublin: 2°C
Michel Euler
# Winning
11 debutants feature as France beat Italy to reach Autumn Nations Cup final
Winger Gabin Villiere celebrated his Test bow as one of five try scorers.

WINGER GABIN Villiere, one of 11 debutants, celebrated his Test bow with a solo try as France reached next weekend’s Autumn Nations Cup final with Saturday’s 36-5 win over Italy at the Stade de France.

Villiere, 24, who was playing in French rugby’s third tier 18 months ago, crossed in a fruitful eight minutes during the second half with the Azzurri down to 14 men after Jacopo Trulla was yellow-carded.

A minute’s silence was held before kick-off to pay tribute to Christophe Dominici who died aged 48 earlier this week. A photo of the former Les Bleus winger was printed on seats on the main stand at the empty Stade de France.

Welshman Nigel Owens became the first referee to officiate 100 Test matches and was presented with a golden whistle for his feat.

Home coach Fabien Galthie had been forced to make 13 changes to his starting lineup and named 11 uncapped players in his squad in line with an agreement between the French Rugby Federation and the Top 14 league limiting players to three appearances on a team sheet during the end-of-year international campaign.

Galthie’s counterpart Franco Smith had less of a selection dilemma. He brought in back-rowers Maxime Mbanda and Johan Meyer for the injured Jake Polledri and Sebastian Negri. Mattia Bellini made way for Luca Sperandio on the right wing.

Matthieu Jalibert opened the scoring after three minutes with a penalty goal before a scrappy opening half an hour was lit up by Italy’s Paolo Garbisi.

The fly-half dummied to beat hooker Peato Mauvaka and broke into the opposition 22m before finding Carlo Canna with a lovely off-load. The centre jogged over unopposed.

Galthie’s men responded and led 10-5 at the break. Stade Francais centre Jonathan Danty claimed his maiden international try catching a Baptiste Serin pass from a 5m scrum to crash over.

France dominated the final half an hour and were a man up for 10 minutes as 20-year-old winger Trulla, who only made his Test bow earlier in November, was shown a yellow card for a deliberate knock-on.

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They made the most of the advantage as Villiere, skipper Serin, who was leading his country for just the second time, and Teddy Thomas for the bonus point, scored.

With the result settled, 20-year-old centre Yoram Moefana, the youngest member of Galthie’s squad, came on for Jean-Pascal Barraque before lock Swan Rebbadj became the last of the 11 rookies to make their Test bow.

Sekou Macalou rubbed salt in Azzurri wounds after the clock turned red as he marked his second France appearance with a try.

France play England in the final at Twickenham next weekend.

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