Preview: France v Italy
Preview: France v ItalySHARE
France have already warned that they should not take Italy lightly when they meet at Stade de France on Sunday. Nor should they.
In the opening round of the Six Nations Wales battled against Italy. Each side scored two tries but Wales's first try was a gross error by a defender. For the rest the Italians defended efficiently, save only for the forced break by big Jamie Roberts that gave Wales their second try. Italy's second try was from an intercept. That was at Millennium Stadium.
France scored three tries against England at Stade de France, the first from a fortuitous bounce, but they did play a good England side.
The two (full) teams first met in 1937 and France have dominated, winning 32 of 35 encounters but Italy have won two of the last three meeting – in Italy, it's true, but enough to make the whole of France wary lest there be a new Caesar crossing the helps to bash Gauls.
The teams play for the Garibaldi Cup. Joseph Marie Garibaldi, usually called Giuseppe, the Italian version of Joseph, was born in France (in Nice) and became the most effective fighter for Italian unity in the 19th century. Italy are the holders of the Garibaldi Cup.
France must be confident after their win over England last week but that confidence should be tempered by the memory of their defeat in Rome last year.
It is unlikely that they will find Italy a push-over, not with the new resolve and willingness to get down and dirty that began when Nick Mallett coached and the greater creativity that has come with Jacques Brunel.
France are also unlikely to be able to rely on flair against revolute tackling and the creativity of fast young players, amongst whom Michele Campagnaro was outstanding with his two tries against England and his toughness of defence.
The packs should more or less even themselves out – two strong front rows, two ordinary sets of locks and two lively sets of strong loose forwards where France will miss Thierry Dusautoir of the enormous work rate.
France have more dominant halfbacks, though both sides have relative novices, internationally speaking, at flyhalf in Jules Plisson and Tommaso Allan, a nephew of John Allan who played for Scotland and South Africa.
Allan has a Scottish father and an Italian mother.
The centres could have a right old dingdong with France possessing the stronger players though the Italians, despite that slip that let Jamie Roberts through, coped with the tough Welsh pairing and Michele Campagnaro burst on the scene like a new star.
It is the French back three that should have a telling edge, especially if Yoann Huget can replicate the form – and good fortune – that brought him the tries that killed off England's hopes of a Grand Slam.
Goal-kicking is always important and here the French scrumhalves Maxime Machenaud and Jean-Marc Doussain are more accurate then Tommy Allan and Luke McLean.
Players to Watch:
For France: Outside backs Wesley Fofana, Gaël Fickou, Yoann Huget, Hugo Bonneval and Brice Dulin. And then there is Jules Plisson, the young flyhalf of so much attacking promise.
For Italy: You would like to see if Michele Campagnaro can do again what he did to Wales and in fact build on it. Of course, the world's eyes will be again on Sergio Parisse, a player of great skill who always manages to be in the right place at the right time. And then there is aging Martín Castrogiovanni with his facial expressions and tumbling hair – a man who delights in scrummaging.
Head to Head: Gaël Fickou vs Michele Campagnaro in the backs; Jules Plisson vs Tommaso Alan at flyhalf, which could be crucial; Thomas Domingo vs Martín Castrogiovanni, two proud scrummagers. The biggest contest may well be at No.8 – Louis Picamoles vs Sergio Parisse – the strong ball-carrier against the forward who can do everything.
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
2007: France won 39-3, Rome
2006: France won 37-12, Paris
2005: France won 56-13, Rome
2004: France won 25-0, Paris
Prediction: Playing in France will not be strange to the Italians but still, after beating England, French tails are up, the cock is crowing, the dreams of the Grand Chelem are excitingly possible. And so, despite the determination and courage of the Azzurri, we believe that Les Bleus will win by 10 points or so.
One thing we can predict with certainty – two great anthems will be sung.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Hugo Bonneval, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Jean Marc Doussain, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Bernard le Roux, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (captain), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Thomas Domingo.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Yannick Forrestier, 18 Rabah Slimani, 19 Sébastien Vaha'amahina, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Gaël Fickou.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tommaso Iannone, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Leonardo Sarto, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martín Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Alberto De Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Alessandro Zanni, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Angelo Esposito .
Date: Sunday, February 9
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 16.00 (15.00 GMT)
Expected weather: This winter has not been gentle in the Northern Hemisphere and Paris looks a tough place to be on Sunday after two days of rain – a chance of thunderstorms with a 50 percent chance of rain, a high of 8°C, dropping to 2°C.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Craig Joubert (South Africa), Francisco Pastrana (Argentina)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)