Planet Rugby

Preview: Italy v France

01st February 2013 09:07


Wesley Fofana France v Italy Six Nations 2012

Threat out wide: Wesley Fofana

The last time France visited Rome, they returned with their tails between their legs after a shock defeat. Complacency will not be an issue on Sunday.

No, Les Bleus do not need reminding of how tough it is to win in the Italian capital these days. England escaped an upset last year thanks to a charge-down try and the Wallabies needed a late penalty miss from the hosts to sneak away with the spoils.

Yes, times have changed. Scotland are not the only team that fear defeat at the hands of the Azzurri. The survivors of the French side that lost in 2011 - and there are plenty - will do well to remind their team-mates that any drop in intensity in Rome will come at a heavy cost.

That essentially is the crux of the matter. If France pitch up and play to their full potential, they really should win comfortably. The fiasco of two years ago had a lot to do with the atmosphere in the French camp that meant when the going got tough, the French hardmen went missing. All the indicators so far suggest that the prevailing attitude in Philippe Saint-André's squad is far more positive compared to the emotional rollercoaster of the Marc Lièvremont era.

That mindset was best illustrated against Samoa last November. After cruising past Australia and Argentina, France were big favourites against the Islanders yet found themselves under huge pressure from an ultra-motivated and physical Samoan side. Instead of buckling, the French stuck to their guns. Fred Michalak's game management skills and the immense grunt of the French pack come to the fore. Saint-André will hope for more of the same from his side this weekend because you can bet your bottom Euro that Italy will match the ferocity of the Samoan onslaught.

But while French fans will be pleased to see their team operating as a more cohesive unit, certain frustrations remain. Most notably, the continued trend of fielding players out of position. Wesley Fofana will start on the wing while François Trinh-Duc, who hasn't played full-back for over two years and did so only briefly, will provide cover from the bench. The Test rugby environment is not the place to try find your feet in an unfamiliar role. Surprisingly, Trinh-Duc only found out on Wednesday that he'd be covering two positions. In fact, there is a complete absence of a specialist on the bench for any of the back three...

Much like their visitors, Italy are aiming to build on their strong form in November. Jacques Brunel's 14-month stint has seen the Azzurri return to the world's top ten which earned them a place in World Cup Group D alongside France and Ireland.

"We showed in the November Tests, especially against New Zealand and Australia, that we can step up and challenge the big teams in the game," said Brunel.

"The key now is to produce that kind of performance over the 80 minutes, and on a regular basis."

Despite Italy's growing ambitions, all the pressure will be on France. Defeat would spell disaster for their campaign while a solid win could be the first step towards a Six Nations title.

Players to watch:

For Italy: Fly-half Luciano Orquera missed the penalty that would have earned Italy a draw against Australia last year. Goal-kicking has long been Italy's Achilles heal and Orquera will know that he must find the mark consistently throughout the next two months if his team are going to be competitive.

For France: More than ten months since his last appearance in bleu, Thierry Dusautoir is back. Having only played five games since his return from injury in mid-December, the Dark Destroyer has yet to reach his best form and there were suggestion earlier in the week that he may not make the final cut. You'd have to be brave selector to leave the former IRB Player of the Year out of your team, and Dusautoir has promised to repay the faith in blood, sweat and guts. Relieved of the burden of the captaincy, the Toulouse flank can now focus of doing what he does best: make tackle after tackle after tackle after tackle....

Head-to-head: The battle between the contrasting styles of number eights Sergio Parisse and Louis Picamoles is set to be gripping. Parisse's pure athleticism has made him Europe's best player in the position for years but many believe that power-house Picamoles is the new top dog. Its a contest of Ferrari v Bulldozer, where we, the spectators, will be the winners.

Previous results:
2012: France won 30-12, Stade de France, Paris
2011: Italy won 22-21, Stadio Flaminio, Rome
2010:France won 46-20, Stade de France, Paris
2009: France won 50-8, Stadio Flaminio, Rome
2008: France won 25-13, Stade de France, Paris
2007: France won 39-3, Stadio Flaminio, Rome
2006: France won 37-12, Stade de France, Paris
2005: France won 56-13, Stadio Flaminio, Rome
2004: France won 25-0, Stade de France, Paris
2003: France won 53-27, Stadio Flaminio, Rome
2002: France won 33-12, Stade de France, Paris
2001: France won 30-19, Stadio Flaminio, Rome
2000: France won 42-31, Stade de France, Paris

Prediction: Much as we think that Italy are no longer pushovers on home soil, the quality of this French side cannot be ignored. Much will depend on how the new-look French backline gels, but we reckon they'll have enough firepower to get the job done. France by eight points.

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Italy: 15 Andrea Masi, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Tommaso Benvenuti, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Luke McLean, 10 Luciano Orquera, 9 Tobias Botes, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Francesco Minto, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lo Cicero.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Alberto De Marchi , 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Antonio Pavanello, 20 Paul Derbyshire, 21 Edoardo Gori, 22 Kristopher Burton, 23 Gonzalo Canale.

France:15 Yoann Huget, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Benjamin Fall, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Thierry Dusautoir, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (c), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Luc Ducalcon, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Mathieu Bastareaud

Date: Sunday, February 3:
Venue: Stadio Olimpico
Kick-off: 16.00 local (15.00 GMT)
Weather: 20 percent chance of rain. Max 12°C
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)

By Ross Hastie

Forthcoming Fixtures
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 20
Sale vs London WelshSale vs London Welsh Preview
London Irish vs SaracensLondon Irish vs Saracens Preview
Harlequins vs WaspsHarlequins vs Wasps Preview
Bath vs LeicesterBath vs Leicester Preview
Sunday , September 21
Newcastle vs NorthamptonNewcastle vs Northampton Preview
Friday , September 26
London Welsh vs Gloucester19:45
More Aviva Premiership fixtures
Guinness PRO12
Saturday , September 20
Newport Gwent D'gons vs GlasgowNewport Gwent D
Scarlets vs Benetton TrevisoScarlets vs Benetton Treviso Preview
Sunday , September 21
Ospreys vs EdinburghOspreys vs Edinburgh Preview
Friday , September 26
Edinburgh vs Scarlets19:35
Leinster vs Cardiff Blues19:35
Glasgow vs Connacht19:35
More Guinness PRO12 fixtures
Top 14
Saturday , September 20
Racing Metro Paris vs Toulouse14:45
La Rochelle vs Bordeaux-Begles18:30
Clermont Auvergne vs LyonClermont Auvergne vs Lyon Preview
Castres vs Oyonnax18:30
Grenoble vs Bayonne18:30
Montpellier vs Stade Francais20:45
More Top 14 fixtures
Currie Cup
Saturday , September 20
Western Province vs Griquas15:00
Blue Bulls vs SharksBlue Bulls vs Sharks Preview
Eastern Province Kings vs Cheetahs19:10
Friday , September 26
Cheetahs vs Blue Bulls19:10
More Currie Cup fixtures
Saturday , September 20
Hawkes Bay vs Bay Of Plenty14:35
Auckland vs North HarbourAuckland vs North Harbour Preview
Manawatu vs Southland19:35
More ITM Cup fixtures
Recent Results
All times are local
Aviva Premiership
Friday , September 19
Gloucester 22 - 25 ExeterGloucester vs Exeter Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Munster 31 - 5 ZebreMunster vs Zebre Report
Cardiff Blues 9 - 26 UlsterCardiff Blues vs Ulster Report
Connacht 10 - 9 LeinsterConnacht vs Leinster Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Brive 13 - 53 ToulonBrive vs Toulon Report
More Top 14 results
Currie Cup
Lions 29 - 15 Pumas
More Currie Cup results
Counties Manukau 20 - 28 CanterburyCounties Manukau vs Canterbury Report
Thursday , September 18
Northland 20 - 31 TaranakiNorthland vs Taranaki Report
Wednesday, September 17
Southland 14 - 38 TasmanSouthland vs Tasman Report
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Sunday , September 14
Wasps 20 - 16 NorthamptonWasps vs Northampton Report
Newcastle 18 - 20 London IrishNewcastle vs London Irish Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Guinness PRO12
Cardiff Blues 12 - 33 GlasgowCardiff Blues vs Glasgow Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Bordeaux-Begles 27 - 21 MontpellierBordeaux-Begles vs Montpellier Report
More Top 14 results
Waikato 26 - 21 Counties ManukauWaikato vs Counties Manukau Report
Hawkes Bay 41 - 0 Otago
More ITM Cup results
Aviva Premiership
Saturday , September 13
Gloucester 34 - 27 Sale SharksGloucester vs Sale Sharks Report
Bath 53 - 26 London WelshBath vs London Welsh Report
Exeter 20 - 24 LeicesterExeter vs Leicester Report
More Aviva Premiership results
Rugby Championship
New Zealand 14 - 10 South AfricaNew Zealand vs South Africa Report
Australia 32 - 25 ArgentinaAustralia vs Argentina Report
More Rugby Championship results
Guinness PRO12
Leinster 42 - 12 ScarletsLeinster vs Scarlets Report
More Guinness PRO12 results
Top 14
Toulouse 9 - 13 Clermont AuvergneToulouse vs Clermont Auvergne Report
Toulon 24 - 28 Stade FrancaisToulon vs Stade Francais Report
Racing Metro Paris 28 - 11 LyonRacing Metro Paris vs Lyon Report
Oyonnax 40 - 27 Grenoble
More Top 14 results
Aviva Premiership Table
4Leicester Tigers29