Reigning Grand Slam champions France begin their defence in Rome


France roll into this year’s Six Nations full of confidence and strong favourites to beat Italy after going unbeaten in 2022.

You would think that would make them most people’s pick to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 2007, but the rise of Andy Farrell’s Ireland to world No 1 status means their blockbuster clash in Dublin in Round 2 will go a long way to determining where the trophy ends up.

And while Gabin Villière’s hat-trick against the Azzurri this time last year set Les Bleus off on their merry way to the Grand Chelem, Kieran Crowley’s Italy are a much more battle-hardened prospect in opposition this time around.

Crucially, Italy finally snapped a 36-game losing streak that had dragged on since 2015 in their match of the championship last year. That Ange Capuozzo break which set up Edoardo Padovani’s match-winning try against Wales in Cardiff will live long in the memory.

There was a blip against Georgia in the summer but Italy regrouped in style with a first-ever victory over Australia in the Autumn Nations Series and will kick-off at the Stadio Olimpico with renewed, and justified, confidence for the first time in a long time.

Having said that, France are still blessed with a plethora of quality across the park and in all likelihood will have too much for their European rivals. But it should be a hell of a ride.

It should be the perfect Sunday afternoon entertainment, so here is our Italy v France preview…

What’s the big team news?

France are missing a few big names with lock Cameron Woki and centre Jonathan Danty both on the injury list.

Thibaud Flament comes into the engine room with Yoram Moefana wearing the No 12 shirt inside defensive maestro Gael Fickou.

Antoine Dupont captains the side from scrum-half and will renew his partnership with Toulouse colleague Romain Ntamack who is outside him at No 10. Matthieu Jalibert is the fly-half cover on the bench and will inject plenty of oomph when Fabien Galthié decides the time is right.

France Six Nations squad Ethan Dumortier

Ethan Dumortier will make his France debut against Italy (Getty Images)

Lyon wing Ethan Dumortier makes his debut on the France wing in the absence of Villiére, a just reward for ripping up trees with his performances in the Top 14. He is joined by full-back Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud in the back three.

Nolann Le Garrec, the Racing 92 scrum-half and a former France U20 captain, is in line for his first cap off the bench if Dupont is removed.

Italy are without Paolo Garbisi at fly-half with Harlequins’ Tommaso Allan deputising. Gloucester’s Stephen Varney will be feeding his Premiership colleague from scrum-half.

Capuozzo starts at full-back with Pierre Bruno, who is featured in the Six Nations special March issue of Rugby Worldand the exciting Tommaso Menoncello, who recently signed a contract extension with Benetton on the wings.

Luca Morisi and Juan Ignacio Brex make up the centre partnership. Lamaro is at No 7 while on the other flank is Sebastian Negri. Danilo Fischetti and Simone Ferrari are the props either side of hooker Giacomo Nicotera.

Federico Ruzza packs down alongside the elder Cannone, Niccolò, in the engine room. The scorer of that famous try in Cardiff in their last Six Nations outing, Edoardo Padovani, must make do with a place among the replacements.

What have the coaches said?

Kieran Crowley said: “We have worked well in these two weeks. We will face the team that won the last Six Nations [France].

“We are trying to build the work around who we are and how we play by focusing on our performance with the aim of showing the best version of ourselves.”

Six Nations

France are the reigning champions (Getty Images)

Fabien Galthié said: “We were second in the preceding two Six Nations tournaments before we won.

“We believe that the journey is far from over. We will only get better, we will continue to make progress.

“Our team is still not fully mature in terms of test rugby, agewise, caps or experience.

“Whatever happens in the tournament results wise we will make progress.”

Six Nations Italy v France: Any interesting statistics?

  • Italy have won just two of their previous 23 Guinness Six Nations matches against France (L21) and have lost each of their last nine, however, both of their previous victories came at home, in 2011 (22-21) and 2013 (23-18).
  • Italy won their last match of the 2022 Guinness Six Nations (22-21 v Wales)after losing 36 in a row previously, however, they haven’t won at home in the competition since March 2013 (22-15 v Ireland) and have won back-to-back games just twice previously.
  • Italy have won five of their last seven Test matches (L2), as many as they had won in their previous 36 combined (L31); they have scored 19+ points in each of their last eight Tests after failing to reach that mark in their previous 17.
  • France won the Grand Slam in last year’s Guinness Six Nations and have won their opening match of the Championship in each of their last four campaigns as reigning champions; no side has ever completed back-to-back Grand Slams in the Six Nations, with Les Bleus the last team to achieve that feat in the Five Nations (1997 & 1998).
  • France have won each of their last 13 Test matches, their longest ever such run and finished 2022 with a 100% record for the first ever time in their history (min.3games), however, three of their last four victories have come by margins of just five points or fewer.

Italy v France Six Nations: What time does it kick off and is it on TV?

Italy v France, Stadio Olimpico, Sunday 5 February, 3pm

The final match of the opening round of this year’s Six Nations will be broadcast live on ITV for fans in the UK. Coverage starts at 2.15pm for the 3pm kick-off.

In Ireland, you can catch all the action on Virgin Media One.

Related: 2023 Six Nations Referees

English official Matthew Carley is in charge of proceedings with Australia’s Nic Berry and Jordan Way running the line with Ben Whitehouse (England) on TMO duties.

What are the line-ups?

ITALY: Ange Capuozzo; Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Luca Morisi, Tommaso Menoncello;  Tommaso Allan, Stephen Varney; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Simone Ferrari, Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza, Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (captain), Lorenzo Cannone

Replacements: Luca Bigi, Federico Zani, Pietro Ceccarelli, Edoardo Iachizzi, Giovanni Pettinelli, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Fusco, Edoardo Padovani

FRANCE: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Yoram Moefana, Ethan Dumortier; Romain Ntamack,  Antoine Dupont (c); Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Anthony Jelonch, Paul Willemse, Thibaud Flament, Uini Atonio, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille

Replacements: Gaetan Barlot, Reda Wardi, Sipili Falatea, Romain Taofifenua, Thomas Lavault, Sekou Macalou, Nolann Le Garrec, Matthieu Jalibert

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