France coach Bernard Laporte insists his team are still in the hunt for the Six Nations Championship title despite struggling to shake off Italy in Rome.
A 30-19 victory at the Stadio Flaminio was hardly vintage stuff from the French, who made several changes to their line up.
But it was still their most convincing performance to date in a campaign that has seen them limp past injury hit Scotland 16 6 at the Stade de France and lose 22 15 to Ireland in Dublin.
‘‘I am happy first and foremost because we won,’’ said Laporte, whose name was booed by a small number of French fans before the kick off.
‘‘We are still in the race for the tournament. We have played three matches and won twice — that’s not too bad.’’
Laporte laid the credit for victory on France’s defence, which was breached only once by Massimiliano Perziano, while Italy conceded three tries.
Laporte said Italy’s talismanic fly half Diego Dominguez had complimented his former club coach on France’s strength in that department.
‘‘Diego told me the defence was very good — he let out a rude word when he told me but it was still a compliment and I am grateful.’’
Captain Fabien Pelous also believed defence had proved the best form of attack, saying: ‘‘I am very satisfied with what we have done — we did very well in defence.’’
Although statistics showed Italy had the bulk of the possession, Laporte pointed out that only a poor performance by goal kicker Christophe Lamaison had kept the result in doubt for so long.
‘‘I am quite satisfied but I know Lamaison could have done better. He was picked specifically for goal kicking, but there you go,” he said.
Pelous also rued the fact that he and his team mates had been left with more work to do after Lamaison converted only six out of 11 kicks while Dominguez had hit five from five.
‘‘We did exactly what we wanted to do,’’ said the forward. ‘‘If we had put over all our kicks we would have scored 50 points.’’
Italy coach Brad Johnstone, meanwhile, believes he can still turn his team into a potent force in time for the 2003 World Cup — if he is given the time.
New Zealander Johnstone, whose two year contract expires at the end of this year, said: ‘‘Modern rugby goes in four year cycles. All we need is time.’’
The base, according to Johnstone, has to begin with Italian club rugby going professional.
‘‘Other Six Nations teams have moved forward and are much more professional,’’ said Johnstone.
‘‘Ireland rested players at club level so they are totally focused on the Six Nations. England met every Monday for three months before the Six Nations. With Italy we had three days over Christmas together.
‘‘It is a professional sport now and we must go professional to compete.”