Preview: Italy v France

Fri, 10 Mar 2017 05:12
Large sergio parisse v guilhem guirado 2017 800

SIX NATIONS ROUND FOUR: Italy coach Conor O'Shea's admiration for France counterpart Guy Noves will face the acid test on Saturday when the sides meet in a highly-anticipated Six Nations clash in Rome.

With nine French championships and four European Cup titles in a 22-year spell with Toulouse before taking the France helm two years ago, Noves hardly needs an introduction to rugby fans.

Neither to O'Shea, who said: "I'm a big fan of Guy Noves, after over 20 years of success with Toulouse he's got France back playing the game everyone knows them for. They're playing some marvellous rugby."

But when Italy meet Les Bleus for the 40th time at the Stadio Olimpico, O'Shea will be hoping to scare a far bigger opponent for the second game in succession.

Despite losing 7-33 to Wales and suffering a nine-try, 10-63 defeat to Ireland, Italy have reason to be cautiously optimistic after running England close in a battling, yet controversial 15-36 defeat at Twickenham a fortnight ago.

Italy defiantly pushed rugby's rules to the limit on their way to giving England a scare. 

Eddie Jones' men eventually recovered from trailing 5-10 at half-time to run in five second-half tries for a 17th consecutive win.

"Two weeks ago against England no-one gave us even half a chance, but 12 minutes from the end we were trailing only 15-17, well in the game," O'Shea said when he announced only three changes to his starting XV.

"We have a long road in front of us and we're here to take it. France, as I've said, have great players - but so do we." 

Italy have beaten France only three times in 39 previous encounters, the last time at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013 when France finished with the wooden spoon after a disastrous campaign under Philippe Saint-Andre.

While a look at the Six Nations table makes grim reading for Italy - three games, three defeats, 18 tries and 132 points conceded to just four tries and 32 points mustered - Noves is taking nothing for granted.

"We're not really in a position to boast, to do a bit like the English, to look down on Italy," said Noves.

"Our results don't allow us to do this. Especially after their performance in England, nothing is written in advance and it will be a very hard match like the others."

Italy flyhalf Carlo Canna will replace injured Tommaso Allan, with Angelo Esposito in at right wing to replace Giuglio Bisegni, who has been rested due to fatigue.

With hooker Ornel Gega also injured and out of the matchday squad, Leonardo Ghiraldini comes off the bench.

France could be forgiven for wondering what kind of tactics the hosts will employ. 

Italy were both lambasted, and praised, after deploying tactics against England that some experts claimed will "kill the game".

England were convinced that the delivery of scrumhalf Danny Care's pass was being repeatedly interfered with by Italy players who were in an offside position, but French referee Romain Poite allowed the tactic.

With only one win from three games so far, pipping Scotland 22-16 in Paris last month, there is also pressure on Noves, who has named fullback Brice Dulin and newcomer Fabien Sanconnie among his four changes for Saturday.

Racing 92 back Dulin has been absent since the November Tests after testing positive for a banned substance, but returns in place of Scott Spedding, who struggled during France's 9-19 defeat to Ireland last time out.

Sanconnie, 22, replaces Toulon flank Charles Ollivon who was ruled out with an ankle injury.

Players to watch:

For Italy: Centre Michele Campagnaro is one of the best in his position across Europe, while scrumhalf Edoardo Gori is dangerous when given a little space around the rucks. Captain and No.8 Sergio Parisse is an inspirational figure, who plays out of skin week in and week out.

For France: The two wings Noa Nakaitaci and Virimi Vakatawa are capable of tearing any defence to shreds when given enough ball, while flyhalf Camille Lopez has a calm head on his shoulders in pressure situations. In the pack, Louis Picamoles is a tough customer to bring down in open play, while lock Yoann Maestri is a key component in the French set-piece.

Head to head: Set-piece dominance is key in every match and the two front rows will both want to get the upper hand in the scrums. Both teams also have a star name in their respective back rows. Sergio Parisse and Louis Picamoles are worth the tickets alone.

Recent results:
2016: France won 23-21, Paris
2015: France won 32-10, London (World Cup Pool match)
2015: France won 29-0, Rome
2014: France won 30-10, Paris
2013: Italy won 23-18, Rome
2012: France won 30-12, Paris
2011: Italy won 22-21, Rome
2010: France won 46-20, Paris
2009: France won 50-8, Rome
2008: France won 25-13, Paris

Prediction: Italy will sure make life tough for the French. However, France are a much smarter team under Guy Noves and they will probably take this one by 10 points at least.

Teams:

Italy: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Braam Steyn, 5 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 4 Marco Fuser, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti.
Replacements: 16 Tommasso D'Apice, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Benvenuti, 23 Luca Sperandio. 

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Louis Picamoles, 6 Fabien Sanconnie, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Cyril Baille.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Eddy Ben Arous, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Bernard le Roux, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Yohann Huget.

Date: Saturday, March 11
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Roma
Kick-off: 14.30 (13.30 GMT)
Expected weather: It will be sunny with a high of 18 and a low of 3.
Referee: Ben O'Keeffe (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), JP Doyle (England)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

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SIX NATIONS
MORE LOGS
Team P W D L Pts
England 5 4 0 1 19
Ireland 5 3 0 2 14
France 5 3 0 2 14
Scotland 5 3 0 2 14
Wales 5 2 0 3 10
Italy 5 0 0 5 0