Mathieu Bastareaud celebrated his return to the France side following a three-week ban for a homophobic slur with a try in Friday's 34-17 Six Nations victory over Italy.
Missing the suspended tournament top try-scorer Teddy Thomas, France laboured for long periods before Italy typically crumbled late on.
In what was billed the battle to avoid the wooden spoon after both sides had suffered two tournament defeats each so far, Bastareaud was key in creating one try and scoring another in an otherwise uninspiring affair that failed to light up a stadium more used to hosting football matches.
Tries from Paul Gabrillagues, Hugo Bonneval and Bastareaud proved enough for France as Maxime Machenaud kicked 17 points, although the hosts missed out on an attacking bonus.
Italy scored a penalty try and a late breakaway effort through Matteo Minozzi but too often found themselves dominated at the breakdown and forced into giving away cheap penalties.
Having conceded more than 100 points in their opening two matches, Italy captain Sergio Parisse had spoken on Thursday of the need to keep things tight early on and not give up easy scores.
But their resistance lasted just five minutes after giving away a penalty that France kicked to the corner before a driving maul was stopped short, only for Gabrillagues to scoop up the ball and stretch out his long arms to touch down.
Yet four minutes later, Italy went straight up the other end, kicked a penalty to touch themselves and then drove over Maxime MBanda for an equalising score.
English referee Wayne Barnes called in the television match official as there was a doubt over whether the flank had grounded the ball.
Barnes decided not but awarded Italy a penalty try anyway for France collapsing the maul and the visitors led 7-5.
Kicking penalties to touch proving popular but after twice more trying the trick and being kept out by dogged Italian defence, France opted for a shot at the sticks on 29 minutes and Machenaud made up for his earlier miss by giving France an 8-7 lead.
Another Machenaud penalty gave France an 11-7 lead at half-time in a poor match in which the fans seemed more interested in performing Mexican waves.
France scored within two minutes of the restart but after quick hands from Bastareaud sent Lionel Beauxis scampering into space, the flyhalf wasted a three-man overlap with a poor pass that went to ground.
Under pressure in defence, though, Italy gave away a penalty right in front of the posts that Machenaud easily slotted over.
Italy wasted a chance to kick three points of their own when again going for the corner only to have their line-out stolen.
But on 50 minutes flyhalf Tommaso Allan kicked a penalty to reduce the arrears to 14-10.
But cometh the hour, cometh the Italian collapse as Bastareaud produced a moment of magic to create France's second try.
With three blue-shirted Italians hanging off the 120kg centre, Bastareaud managed to flip away a one-handed pass to fullback Bonneval who exchanged passes down the left wing with Remy Grosso before crossing for a beautifully worked try.
Two more Machenaud penalties stretched the lead before Bastareaud barged over from close range as Italy started to become ragged.
But the visitors had the last word, as they often do once the game is long gone, with a slick move that went right from a line-out on the left before coming back to the touchline and ending in fullback Minozzi picking up a loose ball to dive over.
Tries: Gabrilagues, Bonneval, Bastareaud
Cons: Machenaud, Trinh-Duc
Pens: Machenaud 5
Tries: Penalty Try, Minozzi
Yellow card: Luca Bigi (Italy, 83 - cynical play, deliberate knock down)
France: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Geoffrey Doumayrou, 11 Rémy Grosso, 10 Lionel Beauxis, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Marco Tauleigne, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sébastien Vahaamahina, 4 Paul Gabrillagues, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Adrien Pelissié, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Cedate Gomes Sa, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Kélian Galletier, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Gaël Fickou.
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti, 13 Tommaso Boni, 12 Tommaso Castello, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Marcello Violi, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Maxime Mbanda, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 Dean Budd, 4 Alessandro Zanni, 3 Simone Ferrari, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Nicola Quaglio, 18 Tiziano Pasquali, 19 George Biagi, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Jayden Hayward
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)