France comfortably brushed RBS 6 Nations whipping boys Italy aside with a six-try demolition job at the Stadio Flaminio to keep their RBS 6 Nations title hopes alive.
France briefly joined Wales at the top of the table on eight points ahead of their match in Cardiff, and managed to surpass the required 42-point winning margin which was the minimum to have any chance of retaining the championship.
But Wales had a superior points difference (+62 to France's +52) and a victory over Ireland would clinch the title, the Triple Crown and the Grand Slam for Mike Ruddock's men.
Yannick Nyanga, Yannick Jauzion and Julien Laharrague claimed the first-half tries that put France in command.
And debutant David Marty and replacements Gregory Lamboley and Pierre Mignoni underlined French superiority after the break.
Italy struck first in the second minute when the French conceded a penalty following a line-out and Italy full-back Gert Peens slotted home the resulting kick.
France scrum-half Dimitri Yachvili levelled the scores up with his first attempt of the match and the visitors took the lead with a superb try a quarter of an hour into the game.
Winger Christophe Dominici wriggled his way down the line before passing inside for Nyanga to stretch over for a try in the corner. Yachvili added the extra points to give France a 10-3 advantage.
France extended their lead to 17-3 thanks to a converted try from Jauzion. The centre crashed over following a brilliant backline move which stretched the width of the pitch and resulted in Dominici beating his man before setting up Jauzion for the score.
Italy hit back with a breakaway try by winger Kaine Robertson, who intercepted a loose Yann Delaigue pass and scampered half the length of the pitch before touching down under the posts. Peens slotted over the conversion to reduce the deficit to 17-10.
The game was stopped as Dominici was treated for a serious-looking injury. Dominici barely moved as the medical team attended him and the winger was then carried off wearing a neck brace to be replaced by Damien Traille.
Traille's first involvement was to help France record their third try, setting up full-back Laharrague to cross in the corner. Yachvili added another conversion from the touch-line to make it 24-10.
Peens claimed the first points of the second half with a penalty from 30 metres to cut France's lead to 11 points.
Simon Picone then intercepted Yachvili's flicked pass and raced from his own 22 to within touching distance of the French line but was hauled in by Traille.
Yachvili responded by landing two penalties in quick succession before Marty scored a stunning try with a solo break from outside the Italian 22. Yachvili landed the conversion.
The French pack hit top gear with 10 minutes remaining and replacement Lamboley powered over for a try. Frederic Michalak, on for Yachvili, tagged on the conversion and France led 44-17.
Three minutes from time Marty's second try was created by some slick, close-quarter handling but Michalak missed the conversion to set up a tense finish, with France knowing they needed a minimum 42-point win to have any chance of retaining their title.
Replacement scrum-half Mignoni scored a brilliant solo try in the last minute and Michalak converted to give France the crucial winning margin of 43 points.
Pens: Peens 2.
Team: Peens, Robertson, Masi, Picone, Nitoglia, Orquera, Troncon, Lo Cicero, Ongaro, Perugini, Dellape, Bortolami, Persico, Dal Maso, Parisse.
Replacements: Pedrazzi for Robertson (67), Griffen for Troncon (59), Castrogiovanni for Lo Cicero (28), Festuccia for Ongaro (56), Del Fava for Dellape (61), Orlando for Dal Maso (73).
Not Used: De Marigny.
Sin Bin: Bortolami (14).
James Haskell admits that his six-month lay-off with a toe injury has been the most frustrating period of his career and says he is still dealing with regular pain on his quest to return to full fitness.