France to add to Italy’s woes

Date published: March 15 2019

Although there is little to play for in this fixture, both Italy and France will be desperate for victory when they face off in Rome on Saturday.

This year’s Six Nations has, once again, highlighted the Azzurri’s shortcomings and they are in danger of finishing their fourth successive campaign without a win, if they lose to Les Bleus.

The home side’s campaign started with a 33-20 defeat to Scotland at Murrayfield although that is a flattering scoreline as Scotland dominated for long periods and Italy scored most of their points during the game’s latter stages.

The Azzurri’s next two matches, against Wales and Ireland, saw them deliver improved performances and although they were competitive in both those matches, they still suffered defeats.

However, the Italians next match, against England at Twickenham, was one they would want to forget in a hurry as the home side dominated from the outset and eventually outscored the Azzurri by eight tries to two to claim a 57-14 win.

By contrast, France have fared a little better although they will be far from pleased with their efforts.

They made a promising start in their opener against Wales in Paris but, despite holding a 16-0 lead at half-time, lost their way in the second half before eventually suffering a 24-19 defeat.

Their next match was one they would want to forget in a hurry as they suffered a humiliating 44-8 loss to England at Twickenham, but they bounced back in style with a 27-10 triumph over Scotland in Paris, and it seemed like Jacques Brunel’s team had turned corner.

But that result was a false dawn as they were comprehensively outplayed in their next match before losing 26-14 in Dublin.

Head coach Brunel and captain Guilhem Guirado have come in for plenty of criticism after that defeat as France scored two consolation tries in the game’s dying moments which added some respectability to the final score. So, although they will not underestimate the Azzurri, Les Bleus will be hoping to end their campaign with a polished all-round display.

Despite their dismal records, these sides employ expansive game-plans which means this encounter should be an entertaining and high scoring affair.

And with both trying to finish the tournament on a positive note, there should be plenty of thrilling action and some drama before the final whistle.

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Players to watch:

For Italy: Despite being sidelined for most of the tournament, Gloucester openside flanker Jake Polledri gets a chance in the run-on side after playing off the bench in last weekend’s defeat to England at Twickenham. Polledri has been one of Gloucester’s best players in the Premiership, since making his debut in that competition two years ago, with his prowess at the breakdowns and strength in contact two of the plusses in his armoury and he has also impressed on defence. If Polledri can take charge of the breakdown and the rest of his team-mates come to the party, the Azzurri could end their 21-run losing streak in the competition.

For France: After sustaining an injury in the tournament opener against Wales, experienced inside centre Wesley Fofana makes his return to Les Bleus’ starting line-up. The 31-year-old will be champing at the bit as this will be his last Six Nations game after announcing earlier this year that he will retire from Test rugby after the World Cup in Japan. Fofana has a brilliant skill-set, runs good lines and his decision making is also one of his strengths. If he can combine all those attributes, he should be able to unlock the Azzurri’s defence.

Head-to-head: Although they are not direct opponents, as the sides’ captains, Italy’s Sergio Parisse and Guilhem Guirado of France will have huge roles to play in this game. Both are inspirational characters and their leadership will be crucial especially in pressure situations. With both sides eager to finish the tournament on a high, their decision making could have a big impact on the result. Like Fofana, this is also likely to be Parisse’s last Six Nations game as the 35-year-old has also hinted at retirement and he will be determined to go out on a high, although Guirado is competitive by nature and will give his all to prevent that scenario from happening.

Previous results:

2018: France won 34-17 in Marseille
2017: France won 40-18 in Rome
2016: France won 23-21 in Paris
2015: France won 29-0 in Rome
2014: France won 31-10 in Paris
2013: Italy won 23-13 in Rome
2012: France won 30-12 in Paris
2011: Italy won 22-21 in Rome

Prediction: This is a difficult game to predict as both sides are battling at the moment. France hold a slight edge which should swing things in their favour. France to win by five points.

The teams:

Italy: 15 Jayden Hayward, 14 Edoardo Padovani, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Luca Morisi, 11 Angelo Esposito, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Jake Polledri, 6 Abraham Jurgens Steyn, 5 Federico Ruzza, 4 David Sisi, 3 Tiziano Pasquali, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Luca Bigi, 17 Cherif Traore’, 18 Simone Ferrari, 19 Alessandro Zanni, 20 Sebastian Negri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Ian McKinley, 23 Luca Sperandio

France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Wesley Fofana, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Yacouba Camara, 6 Gregory Alldritt, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Felix Lambey, 3 Demba Bamba, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Etienne Falgoux
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Dany Priso, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Paul Gabrillagues, 20 Arthur Iturria, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Camille Lopez, 23 Thomas Ramos

Date: Saturday, March 16
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 13:30 local (12:30 GMT)
Referee: Matthew Carley (England)
Assistant Referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)