Preview: France v Italy

Thu, 22 Feb 2018 22:27
Large france v italy six nations trophy 2 800

SIX NATIONS ROUND THREE: Mathieu Bastareaud knows he's been given a few chances in his life and at the age of 29 the burly centre has no intention of letting this one go.

It's been a bumpy road for Bastareaud in a France shirt at times, going right back to his breakthrough year in 2009.

But having seemingly been banished and forgotten following France's humiliating 2015 World Cup quarter-final thrashing by New Zealand, the hard-running midfielder is back and has Italy in his sights ahead of Friday night's Six Nations clash in Marseille.

And even the uncouth indiscretion of aiming a homophobic slur at Treviso's Sebastian Negri - who he will face again on Friday - last month in a European Champions Cup match, earning a three-week ban, has not stopped Bastareaud continuing his international career.

"Nothing's changed. Under Guy (Noves) I came from a long, long way back to in the end play in his last matches," said Bastareaud.
"Now, who knows if that situation won't be reversed with Jacques [Brunel]."

Following the World Cup, Bastareaud spent two years in the international wilderness as Noves looked elsewhere, eventually settling on a centre pairing of Gael Fickou and Remi Lamerat.

But he was recalled in November and then again in January once Brunel had replaced Noves.
He perhaps wouldn't be lining up for France against Italy was it not for Lamerat being one of eight France players suspended by their own federation over a controversial late-night drinking session following their defeat to Scotland two weeks ago.

But Bastareaud is back, nonetheless.

"The French team belongs to no-one," said Bastareaud. "I've lived it: I've come back after a two-year absence.

"There's a lot of movement... Beyond that, there's a huge mark of faith that I need to repay."

He's had to do that before, too, notably after being sent home from France's 2009 tour to New Zealand for lying about being mugged when in fact he'd suffered a facial injury falling over drunk in his hotel room.

He's also had to force his way back in following a long absence previously, having had to wait three years between his ninth and 10th caps.

With 42 caps to his name now, Bastareaud will be the most experienced player in the France backline.

And he is one of the few survivors from the France team that claimed the Six Nations Grand Slam in 2010.

But Bastareaud's return can very much be looked at through the prism of France's current malaise - their best tournament finish since 2010 was third last year.

In his younger days, he was a potent weapon as a crash-ball centre.

Built like a brick outhouse but with a turn of pace, he would launch himself at much lighter centres, sucking in extra cover and creating space for others in the next phase.

But now, his waistline has grown and his pace disappeared.

On France's official federation website, he's listed as 126kg - the heaviest player in France's starting line-up on Friday - he wouldn't look out of place in the front row.

France has won just three of their last 15 matches while Italy has tasted success only once in 14 encounters.

In fact, Italy will set a new record for themselves of 15 consecutive Six Nations defeats if they lose.
Both sides have lost their opening two games of this year's Six Nations but while France's were close, Italy has already leaked more than 100 points.

Their Irish coach Conor O'Shea has come to France with limited ambition.

"I hope we'll offer ourselves and our fans a performance we can all be proud of," he said.

Players to watch:

For France: Will Mathieu Bastareaud control his emotions? He will certainly be in the spotlight. Lionel Beauxis has a crucial role to play in managing the game.

For Italy: Sergio Parisse is always worth a glance and this time round his performance will be vital if the Azzurri is to have any chance of an upset.

Head to head: Who wants to tackle the 126kg French monster Mathieu Bastareaud? Tommaso Boni is the Italian that has that unenviable task. He may require assistance from his teammates. At No.8 Marco Tauleigne (France) and Sergio Parisse (Italy) will be in an intriguing contest.

Recent results:
 2017: France won 40-18, Rome
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 win 22-21, Rome
2010: France won 46-20, Paris
2009: France won 50-8, Rome

Prediction: If there is one team Italy believe they can beat it is France. And they have achieved that on occasion. However, the Azzurri rebuilding process is not complete yet and France should win by about 15 points.


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

Date: Friday, February 23
Venue: Stade Vélodrome, Marseille
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT, 21.00 Italian Time)
Expected weather: Mostly sunny, but breezy and cold. High of  4°C and low of -3°C
Referee: Wayne Barnes (England)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: David Grashoff (England)

Agence France-Presse & @rugby365com

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