Mbanda headlines Azzurri changes
TEAM ANNOUNCEMENT: Maxime Mbanda will make his first start in this year's Six Nations as Italy coach Conor O'Shea made three changes for Friday's clash against France in Marseille.
Zebre flank Mbanda, who has 13 caps, replaces Abraham Steyn in the back row beside captain Sergio Parisse after Italy suffered their second heavy loss of the campaign, 56-19 to Ireland, following an opening 46-15 defeat to champions England in Rome.
"On the positive side, in two very tough games with teams like England and Ireland, we scored five tries," said O'Shea after his side's eight-try rout by the Irish.
Veteran Toulouse hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini, 33, starts in place of Luca Bigi with Zebre prop Andrea Lovotti stepping in for Nicola Quaglio in the Garibaldi Trophy clash.
Treviso pair Bigi and Quaglio drop to the bench, alongside second rower George Biagi, now a substitute after missing the trip to Dublin.
Flanks Renato Giammarioli and Giovanni Licata, prop Marco Riccioni and full-back Edoardo Padovani are all still recovering from injury.
"I believe very much in this group and in the path we are taking together," insisted Irishman O'Shea.
"In Dublin, in the first half we didn't do what we expected, but it's important for us this Friday to learn from our mistakes and show our game plan, show off our rugby throughout the game.
"France are a very strong team, together with England they are the national team with the greatest depth of choice and it is enough to see the team announced by [Jacques] Brunel to realise this.
"For us, Friday's game is a new opportunity. We must not think about France, focus on ourselves and I hope we can offer ourselves and our fans a performance to be proud of."
Italy last beat France in the Six Nations in February 2013, under former coach Jacques Brunel, who took charge of his native France in December.
If Italy is defeated on Friday it will set a new worst losing streak in the competition for the Azzurri of 15 matches.
The French lost their opening two Six Nations games against Ireland (13-15) and Scotland (26-32).
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
Date: Friday, February 23
Venue: Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT, 21.00 Italian Time)
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)