France mourns Dominici and beats Italy 36-5 to reach final

PARIS (AP) — France's heart-broken players mourned Christophe Dominici and then the makeshift side overcame Italy 36-5 on Saturday to set up an Autumn Nations Cup final against England.

Dominici’s first try for France was on his international debut against England 22 years ago, and it came as the newly built Stade de France hosted its first test.

Perhaps fitting, then, that French rugby waved goodbye to one of its favorite sons on a field where he scored six of his 25 international tries and another three in club rugby finals.

Five tries were scored by a France team with 13 changes from the win in Scotland last week, including starts for five debutants as part of an agreement with clubs to rotate players. Six more players made their debuts off the bench.

They led 10-5 with 25 minutes left when new winger Gabin Villiere showed good pace to slice through and leap over the line for a converted score moments after his counterpart Jacopo Trulla was sin-binned.

The forwards then helped scrumhalf and stand-in captain Baptiste Serin over the line, and fullback Brice Dulin broke two tackles and fed the speedy right winger Teddy Thomas for a third try in eight exhilarating minutes while they had the man advantage.

Flanker Sekou Macalou's last-gasp try padded the score for a young French side, but did not fully reflect how difficult it was early on against the feisty Italians.

“We had little time to prepare together, so that was not normal," Serin said. "But we gave anything and I’m proud for the young players who came in. I made myself available for them all week because there was a bit of stress and a fear of not doing well. But they all came through.”

France was stunned early when Italy flyhalf Paolo Garbisi sold a great dummy and passed inside to center Carlo Canna to score after 26 minutes.

Italy was ahead and it woke up the French.

Center Jonathan Danty bulldozed over Garbisi and through two other players to get France's first try in the 36th, and France went into halftime up 10-5.

France topped its group and faces Six Nations champion England at Twickenham on Dec. 6.

England earlier beat Wales 24-13 in Llanelli.

Back at Stade de France, a minute's silence was held for Dominici, who died on Tuesday at the age of 48, and French Rugby Federation president Bernard Laporte teared up. The players wore his nickname ’Domi’ on their left sleeves. A giant photo of Dominici covered a section of the empty stands.

Also on hand were France coach Fabien Galthie, who was Dominic’s friend, teammate and club coach at Stade Francais, and former Stade Francais president Max Guazzini.

“He had the gift of sharing,” former teammate Vincent Clerc said on French television. “He was someone we liked having next to us.”

The test was also a milestone for Welsh referee Nigel Owens, his 100th in charge. He was chuffed.

“It's nice to get that century. To be the first is very special,” Owens said. "It's a sad feeling as well, because you realize you're getting older and there's not much time left at this level.”

Owens, 50 next year, said he hopes to referee in the next Six Nations then bow out.

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More AP sports: https://apnews.com/apf-sports and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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