abin Villière scored a stylish hat-trick as France kicked off their 2022 Six Nations campaign with a 37-10 victory with a bonus point over Italy at home.
The floating-footed Toulon wing scored either side of the interval and again late in the game for the pre-tournament favourites, who secured further tries from Antony Jelonch and formidable Damian Penaud to overcome the fiery Azzurri after making a particularly slow. beginning of the debates in the Parisian rain.
While France certainly didn’t have everything in their own way on Sunday, the all-important bonus point puts them top of the first table ahead of the potentially crucial visit from Ireland – which sidelined injury-ravaged Wales on Saturday – in the second round.
After an early penalty from full-back Melvyn Jaminet, the Stade de France crowd were stunned after a first try from Italian Tommaso Menoncello.
After a key error under Jaminet’s high ball and a big bulldozer from the lock Federico Ruzza, Paolo Garbisi chose the wing with a precise cross kick and the debutant somehow kept his feet in contact to point in the right corner.
France’s first score of the afternoon less than 10 minutes later was a real treat, with Welsh-born Italy and Gloucester scrum-half Stephen Varney recovering the loose ball from a scrappy line-out, then trying to pass back to Monty Ioane, but instead providing an easy interception for French flanker Jelonch to run and dive for his first Test try.
A quick penalty from Garbisi brought brave and struggling Italy back in front, but their determined defense was again breached on the stroke of half-time.
After a breakdown offense, substitute French captain Antoine Dupont went for the corner instead of three more points and some terrific quick handling across the backline gave reserve man Villière the chance to rush from the left and touch the ground.
France entered the break 18-10 in front after a difficult conversion attempt from Jaminet passed through the posts.
They then picked up where they left off at the start of the second period, with Jonathan Danty stopped just short of the line and hooker Julien Marchand then denied a try from close range after a TMO review.
However, they pushed further after a fine run and offloaded No 8 Gregory Alldritt, who launched Villiere for a second try of the afternoon via a cheeky kick.
The most important bonus point was secured by the brilliant Damian Penaud, who combined beautifully with Dupont on the French right side before accelerating for try number four.
Villière then struck again with the clock in the red after great work from Penaud and Yoram Moefana to seal France’s first Six Nations treble since 2008.