ROME - Fly-half Luciano Orquera kicked 10 points and Kris Burton dropped a match-winning goal as Italy belied their status as Six Nations also-rans to stun tournament co-favourites France 23-18 at the Olympic Stadium yesterday.
France came into their opener buoyed by three, morale-boosting wins over Australia, Argentina and Samoa in November, but under pressure to make a solid start having finished a mediocre fourth in last year's edition.
Adding to coach Philippe Saint-Andre's task was knowing that on their last outing in Italy, in March 2011, they suffered a 22-21 defeat. With Italy showing progress in their own November Test campaign, notably against New Zealand and Australia, France came to the capital ready for a physical encounter.
Instead, the hosts eschewed the errors for which they have become known and added their own brand of expansive, flowing rugby to frustrate France throughout a thrilling encounter.
After enjoying most of the early possession, Italy scored the first try of the match thanks to the great running and vision of Orquera.
A long French punt downfield was kept in play and the Italy fly-half darted through the French defence during a long foray that ended with an off-load to skipper Sergio Parisse who touched down on five minutes.
Orquera stepped up to add two points with the boot to put Italy 7-0 up.
Louis Picamoles replied for the visitors, though Michalak missed the conversions Italy extended their lead to 13-5 via the boot.
A Michalak penalty cut the deficit and five minutes later France were in front when Benjamin Fall touched down as the Italian defence struggled to contain the power and movement of fullback Yoann Huget and Wesley Fofana on the right wing.
Italy resumed in positive fashion after the break but fell further behind to a superb Michalak penalty from 40 metres out.
After a raft of changes on both sides, scrum half Maxime Machenaud went on a promising charge down the middle which only ended 10 metres from the tryline.
Orquera gave Italy a 20-18 lead with the conversion, and minutes later the stadium erupted when his replacement Kris Burton sent a drop goal through the posts from 25 metres to give Italy a 23-18 lead.