France justified their status as Six Nations favorites with a 30-12 win over Italy, while England’s rebuilt side showed they had spirit as well as talent to open their title defense with a 13-6 win in Scotland on Saturday.
In their first match since losing the Rugby World Cup final in October, the French touched down four times at the Stade de France and conceded only four kicks to gain some payback for last season’s 22-21 upset in Rome.
Scotland dominated an England side containing three players making their debut, but they made basic errors to throw away the chance of victory. Instead, England held out and scored the only try from a charge down at the start of the second half.
France backs Aurelien Rougerie, Julien Malzieu, Vincent Clerc and Wesley Fofana, on debut, each scored a try and scrumhalf Dimitri Yachvili kicked 10 points.
Italy played well and shaded France for long periods, but they lacked the playmaking ability of the home side.
Kris Burton kicked nine points in his first start for Italy since last year’s Six Nations, while Tobias Botes added a penalty, but a repeat of last year’s result was never on the cards.
“We relish this first victory in the competition,” Rougerie said. “We know it’s always tough to start the Six Nations.”
Yachvili put France ahead in the 11th minute after an infringement in the ruck and, although Burton dropped a goal five minutes later to level at 3-3, Italy never managed to get their noses in front.
France center Rougerie found a big gap in the Italy defense and ran unchallenged to touch down. No. 8 Louis Picamoles then charged off a scrum to feed Malzieu, who held off Edoardo Gori and new cap Giovanbattista Venditti, cut inside fullback Andrea Masi and beat tackles from Gori and Alberto Sgarbi to score.
Yachvili converted the first, but missed the second to leave France 15-6 ahead at halftime.
France capitalized on a turnover in the 54th minute and flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc chipped the ball over the Italy defense. Rougerie kicked the ball on and Clerc ranged up beside him to collect it and score France’s third try, converted by Yachvili.
Italy ran into more trouble in the 71st minute when lock Quintin Geldenhuys received a yellow card for illegally pulling down a maul. France’s forwards then surged to the posts, and quick passing to the left ended with Fofana running over McLean to score the final points.
Scotland had 60 percent possession and won the ball 33 times in the opposition half — compared with just eight by England — but they lacked a finish.
Replacement Greig Laidlaw thought he had put Scotland in front at the start of the final quarter, but the TV official told the referee that the halfback failed to put downward pressure on the ball when he stretched out over Ben Youngs’ shoulder as the pair raced back over the England try-line.
Scotland openside Ross Rennie then seemed to have created the opening for a match-winning try when he burst through a gap in the visiting defense, but he delayed his inside pass and lost the ball in a tackle from fullback Ben Foden.
“It’s very disappointing to get the loss,” man-of-the-match Rennie said. “We made a few small errors in the red zone in attack and defense, and we need to work on that next week.”
Instead, the crucial moment came 29 seconds into the second half when recalled England flyhalf Charlie Hodgson scored the first try in the fixture since England’s 35-13 victory eight years ago.