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 here on Sunday.
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.
Italy had a narrow escape in the 10th minute when a Frederic Michalak cross kick landed in the far corner to cause panic
France regained possession and after a failed try attempt on the right following a deft Michalak pass, France worked the ball to the left from where Louis Picamoles got the ball over the tryline.
From an easy angle, Michalak missed the conversion.
The hosts set up camp again on the edge of the French 22 and Orquera, first with a drop goal then a penalty for offside, took Italy's lead to 13-5 inside the 19th minute.
France had shown little in the opening period but after several uncharacteristic mistakes the tournament co-favourites began to find their stride.
Benjamin Fall looked set to provide France's second try with a charge down the left that was stopped by a superb tackle from full-back Andrea Masi.
When the visitors next put points on the board, it came from a penalty and the boot of Michalak on 29 minutes who reduced arrears to 13-8.
Five minutes later France pulled level in emphatic style when Fall touched down as the Italian defence struggled to contain the power and movement of full back Yoann Huget and Wesley Fofana on the right wing.
Michalak gave France the lead with the conversion, but the visitors then spurned the chance to add another five points when Fofana's off-load to the unmarked Fulgence Ouedraogo on the right went into touch.
Italy resumed in positive fashion after the break but fell further behind to a superb Michalak penalty from 40 metres out, although moments later the fly-half saw an even longer attempt slip under the posts following a foul by hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini.
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.
Italy countered, a long run by Parisse was blocked by a retreating France backline, but although the move failed it led directly to Italy's second try with prop Martin Castrogiovanni touching down from Orquera's superb ground pass.
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.
It set up a dramatic finale with a desperate France setting up camp in search of the try and possible match-winner.
Italy lost Davide Giazzon to the sin-bin in the dying minutes, but France ultimately failed to capitalise.