All you need to know about the Group B match at Stade de France

Autumn Nations Cup France v Italy Preview

Some elements of this Test will be unrecognisable, but there will be one totally familiar sight in the Autumn Nations Cup Pool B closer.

Referee Nigel Owens takes charge of his 100th Test match, in Paris. An incredible run for one of the game’s most recognisable characters.

But while we are accustomed to seeing the Welshman in the thick of Test action, there are some big changes afoot with the French side.

It was inevitable at some point we were going to see an unfamiliar France squad. Due to the nature of the agreement between the French Federation and the National Rugby League (LNR), les Bleus‘ top players were only going to get three games to show their stuff this autumn. And now, it’s time for a shake-up.

And so while France reconfirm they are targeting a final weekend showdown with England, they also name a squad of 23 with 11 newcomers to face Italy.

The visitors have already made clear their plan to gain experience for 2023, so much of this group continue to find their feet. There are two potential debutants off the bench, but this is as strong a side as coach Franco Smith can muster, given his scheme for the years ahead. They will again be led in an attacking sense by 20-year-old fly-half Paolo Garbisi.

The biggest shame is Smith cannot select back-rowers Jake Polledri, who required knee surgery, and Seb Negri, who has a thigh complaint.

A minute of silence will also be held before Saturday’s game in memory of France hero Christophe Dominici, who sadly passed away this week. French players will wear his nickname, ‘Domi’ on their sleeves.

Autumn Nations Cup France v Italy Preview

Sadly gone: France great Christophe Dominici (Getty Images)

What’s the big team news?

There are 13 different names in the France starting team, compared with their match against Scotland. Fly-half Jalibert and winger Teddy Thomas are the only players to be retained in the starting line-up. In the pack Peato Mauvaka is the most experienced international with – wait for it – a whopping four caps to his name.

There are some more familiar faces coming back into the group for more Test recognition. Jonathan Danty and Brice Dulin are back on the big stage while athletic all-rounder Sekou Macalou is back in the French fold for the first time since 2017. It could be some shift for that back-row – the forwards on the bench are all normally front-five guys.

Interestingly, amongst the new caps are two players familiar to sevens fans: JP Barraque, named at centre, and Gabin Villière, listed at wing.

And what a moment for Baptiste Serin, captaining the side.

Matteo Minozzi is the most experienced prong of Italy’s back-three trident – Jacopo Trulla will only get his second cap, while Luca Sperandio will earn cap number seven after coming in to replace Mattia Bellini.

Autumn Nations Cup France v Italy Preview

Top drawer: Italy’s Braam Steyn claims a lineout (Getty Images)

In fact there is a bit of a theme of greener talents being twinned positionally with more-weathered players. For example, although not a change from the last outing, Carlo Canna gets his 46th cap, in the centres alongside Marco Zanon who should get his third cap.

You may remember the 2019 Six Nations, when Zanon had the chance to score a try that, if converted, would edge Italy ahead of France in the closing stages. However, Damien Penaud forced the centre to knock on in the act of going for the try-line. France went on to win that encounter.

Then there is the back row. Shorn of Polledri and Negri, Maxime Mbanda and Johan Meyer come in to help out Braam Steyn. The trio will need to work shrewdly and in synergie against the all-action trio France have selected.

What have the coaches said?

France head coach Fabien Galthie said of his captain, Serin: “Baptiste is very committed. He is calm, he handles the burden very well. He looks forward to leading this team and leading by example.

“He is a kind of conduit who happily passes on all his knowledge to this group and with a lot of energy. It suits us very well! When you’re at our level, you have to be ready anywhere, anytime. Baptiste has already shown us that he is able to adapt to the most complex of situations, which he knows how to handle. The players who are the finishers have a complicated mission – the players who are just starting out too.”

Italy boss Franco Smith said: “We had extra days to better prepare for this meeting. The forced stop last week further increased our desire to take the field on Saturday against France. It will be an intense match where we will have the opportunity to see some interesting youngsters at work as we continue our path of expanding the base at our disposal and building our DNA.”

Galthie Autumn

Eyes ahead: France’s head coach Fabien Galthie (Getty Images)

Any interesting statistics?

  • A win in Paris would be France’s fifth Test victory in a row
  • 1997 – the year Italy won in France for the first (and only) time
  • 145kg – the weight of France replacement prop Uini Atonio, according to his Stade La Rochelle team profile
  • Replacement hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini is the only player in this Italy squad to have beaten France (in 2013)
  • On 19 occasions since 2000, more than 40 points have been scored when these two meet

What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

France v Italy, Saturday 28 November, Stade de France

The match kicks off at 8.10pm and will be broadcast live on Amazon Prime Video in the UK and Premier Sports in Ireland.

If you’re outside the UK and Ireland, check out our guide to Autumn Nations Cup coverage around the world.

Nigel Owens of Wales is the referee for this match – calling his 100th Test match. Matthew Carley (England) and Mike Adamson (Scotland) are his assistants, while Sam Grove-White (Scotland) is the TMO.

Autumn Nations Cup France v Italy Preview

Man in the middle: Referee Nigel Owens (Getty Images)

What are the line-ups?

France: Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Jean-Pascal Barraque, Jonathan Danty, Gabin Villière; Matthieu Jalibert, Baptiste Serin (captain); Rodrigue Neti, Peato Mauvaka, Dorian Aldegheri, Kilian Geraci, Baptiste Pesenti, Cameron Woki, Sekou Macalou, Anthony Jelonch.

Replacements: Teddy Baubigny, Hassane Kolingar, Uini Atonio, Cyril Cazeaux, Swan Rebbadj, Baptiste Couilloud, Louis Carbonel, Yoram Moefana.

Italy: Matteo Minozzi; Jacopo Trulla, Marco Zanon, Carlo Canna, Luca Sperandio; Paolo Garbisi, Marcello Violi; Danilo Fischetti, Luca Bigi, Giosue Zilocchi, Marco Lazzaroni, Niccolo Cannone, Maxime Mbanda, Johan Meyer, Braam Steyn.

Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari, Pietro Ceccarelli, Cristian Stoian, Michele Lamaro, Stephen Varney, Tommaso Allan, Federico Mori.

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