France displayed trademark flair to crush Italy 46-20 and stay firmly on course for their first grand slam since 2004 in the Six Nations on Sunday.
The home side ran in six tries, including two from centre David Marty, and gathered 16 points from the reliable boot of scrumhalf Morgan Parra.
Italy, who recorded a rare win over Scotland in their last match, had to be content with two penalties from wing Mirco Bergamasco who also converted the consolation tries from substitutes Carlo Del Fava and Pablo Canavosio.
France, chasing their first victory in the championship since 2007, host England at the Stade de France next Saturday.
“France are the strongest team in the competition. They have beaten Wales away, they have beaten Scotland away, they smashed Ireland, they scored 46 points against us,” Italy coach Nick Mallett told a news conference when asked to compare the strengths of France and England.
“England, when you look at their performance against us, 17-12, were not very convincing, they were not very convincing against Scotland,” he added.
“They certainly have a better defence but this French side is a very, very good team and, although we played badly today, I want to give them full credit. They are a very good rugby side and I think one of the two or three best sides in the world.”
Italy were dominated in most areas, notably the lineouts, and paid dearly for poor discipline while France relied on a mix of power and skill to remain the only side undefeated in the tournament after four matches.
“We are happy, we are relieved because the players started the game strongly. We scored nearly 50 points, six tries, most of them well conceived, and we were lucky enough not to lose players through injuries,” France coach Marc Lievremont said.
“We can now really think about a grand slam. It was in the back of our minds since the start of the championship but we didn’t want to boast our ambitions,” he added.
Number eight Imanol Harinordoquy showed France the way, touching down between the posts from a fine pass by Parra five minutes into the game, played on a grey, windy afternoon.
Italy were down to 14 men after centre Gonzalo Garcia received a yellow card for a late tackle on wing Marc Andreu when France scored their next two tries, courtesy of Marty.
The visitors trailed 22-0 after 25 minutes and did not get on the scoreboard until Bergamasco converted a penalty five minutes before the teams changed sides.
Winger Andreu, winning his second cap and starting for the first time, stormed through a static Italian defence after a neat combination by the French backs to add another try, putting France 32-6 up.
The fans at Stade de France were treated to another moment of brilliance and a fifth try, by centre Yannick Jauzion.
After substitute flanker Alexandre Lapandry added a sixth try with a powerful run and Parra obliged with the conversion, Lievremont made a few changes to rest some players.
France dropped their guard, allowing Italy a burst of pride in the form of two tries in quick succession that made the scoreboard slightly more acceptable.
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