France survived a huge scare as they started their Six Nations campaign with a nerve-racking victory over Italy.

The defending champions were 24-22 down going into the last 15 minutes before replacement out-half Matthieu Jalibert scored the decisive try.

Thibaud Flament, Ethan Dumortier and Thomas Ramos, who also kicked nine points, had touched down in the first half.

Italy, who made the most of France's poor discipline, responded with Ange Capuozzo’s try, a penalty try and points from the boot of Tommaso Allan, showcased their newly-found flair and self-confidence but came up just short as Les Bleus claimed their 14th Test victory in a row.

France were on the scoresheet after four minutes when Italy scrum-half Stephen Varney attempted a box-kick only to be thwarted by the six-foot-eight Flament, who intercepted before going on an unstoppable run over the whitewash, with Ramos adding the extras.

Allan booted in a penalty to narrow the deficit before France had a try ruled out, but Les Bleus soon restored their advantage through Ramos.

Allan added another penalty for the Azzurri before Dumortier collected Romain Ntamack's cross-field kick and dotted down to open his account for France.

Italy responded through Capuozzo, who went on a sprightly run and was able to evade Gregory Alldritt before getting the ball down in the left corner, with Allan adding a penalty to make it 19-14 at the halfway point.

Ramos added three more but Ollivon was soon punished for bringing down the maul and the penalty try was awarded after a review. Allan soon made no mistake to slot his fourth penalty through the posts to give his side the lead for the first time in the 61st minute.

Five minutes later, however, France displayed their depth when Jalibert came off the bench and made an instant impact, scoring with his first touch to secure the bonus point.

France face Ireland in Dublin on Saturday, live on RTÉ2 and RTÉ Player, with Italy taking on England at Twickenham on Sunday.