Italy save their worst performance for France

Italy reserved their worst performance in a year for their 46-20 hammering by Six Nations Grand Slam chasing France, claimed coach Nick Mallett on Sunday.

The 53-year-old England-born naturalised South African said that his side’s terrible performance – they were outscored six tries to two, though their couple came right at the end – perhaps put France in a better light than they really were, though he added the hosts deserved to be top of the table.

“That is the worst we have played for a year,” said Mallett candidly.

“The first-half couldn’t have been worse for us and the yellow card (for centre Gonzalo Garcia, his second of the tournament) came at the worst time possible.

“A lot of the players played their worst matches for a long time and we made look France better than they are,” added Mallett, who enjoyed two domestic title victories here at the same Stade de France ground when he coached Stade Francais.

Mallett, who enjoyed a successful spell as South Africa coach guiding them to a record 17 successive wins and to the 1999 World Cup semi-finals, bemoaned the level of performance from his players, who saw the French run in three tries in the first-half to give them a mountain to climb at half-time as they turned round 22-3 behind.

“The players were well off their best and were very poor today,” said Mallett.

“I don’t know if they have a mental block when it comes to playing the French or if they hadn’t come down after our victory over the Scots last time in Rome, but it was pretty dire watching from the stands.”

Mallett, an Oxford graduate who went on to win two caps for South Africa at No 8, praised his side for at least scoring two tries especially the second one from Pablo Canavosio, who had replaced starting scrum-half Tito Tebaldi after just half-an-hour.

“That was a great individual try by Pablo and I have to give credit where it is due as the players came back more into the match towards the end but to be honest the match had lost a lot of its structure in the last 20 minutes,” said Mallett.

Mallett, who had been thought of as a potential replacement for Bernard Laporte when he stepped down from the French job after the 2007 World Cup, admitted that the French were a vastly improved side from previous ones he had pitted his wits against.

“I don’t think the French will score tries as easily as that against England as they did today (referring to next Saturday’s final match at the Stade de France),” he said.

“However, there are no weaknesses in this French side. The defence is very good, the scrum is excellent and their discipline is very much improved than previous French sides.

“They are a strong unit and also have very good individuals with great wingers. They can bring Julien Malzieu off the bench, who even as a winger is bigger than one of my flankers, and they can take off Yannick Jauzion in the centre and replace him with Mathieu Bastareaud.

“They are in a very strong position and deserve to be top of the table.” Italy, who head bottom of the table Scotland by a point, round off their campaign against Wales enxt Saturday.

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