Buoyed by their Six Nations victory over England, France are heavy favourites to brush off an Italy side reeling from a rout by Wales. But the Azzurri will see things differently
Six Nations France v Italy preview
It’s too early to ‘big up’ France on the back of last weekend’s victory over England, just as it’s too soon to dismiss Italy as no-hopers because of their barren day in Cardiff. Nevertheless, the Six Nations narrative plays out rapidly and both teams will be eager to prove a point or two at what is set to be a gale-affected Stade de France.
France’s defeat of England was not as convincing as some would have you believe, and it would have been interesting to see how the closing minutes played out had George Kruis scored under the posts instead of being held up.
The influence of new France defence coach Shaun Edwards was immediate and powerful, with only Scotland matching their level of tackle dominance and no one matching their line speed. The sight of white shirts sharpened their motivation.
Italy ran the ball frequently in Cardiff, full-back Matteo Minozzi making four offloads among his 14 carries, but a similar strategy today could see them running up blind alleys.
Head coach Franco Smith spoke pre-championship of the need to manage field position and, with Storm Ciara blowing in with a vengeance, this is a sensible time to add a dose of pragmatism to proceedings. If the conditions are anything like those at Murrayfield last night, it could make ugly and error-strewn viewing.
The Azzurri’s losing run in the fixture stands at eight matches but they have often troubled the French, as occurred on their previous championship visit to Paris in 2016 (23-21) – two years ago they met in Marseille – and again last year when Damian Penaud made a late try-saving tackle and then scored a breakaway to clinch a fortunate 25-14 win in Rome.
It’s difficult to conceive of anything but a French victory this afternoon, so perhaps the issue for Fabien Galthié’s team will be the manner of that expected win. Achieving a try bonus point must be the target against the tournament’s weakest team, although the hostile conditions will conspire against that.
For Italy, a kinder scoreboard than the 42-0 humbling last weekend will represent a measure of progress. An Italy defeat, coupled with a Georgia win over Spain in the second-tier championship, will see Italy drop below the Lelos in the world rankings and add fuel to the fire of the debate about promotion and relegation.
What’s the big team news?
France have stuck with the men who did the job against England, with just one enforced change from that starting XV.
Centre Virimi Vakatawa, who has been in scintillating form this season, has a triceps injury and is replaced by Arthur Vincent. The Montpellier centre, who led France U20 to the world title last year, made his debut off the bench last weekend.
Perhaps with one eye on the weather, France have opted for a six-two split on the bench, with half-backs Baptiste Serin and Matthieu Jalibert the only backs named.
Italy also go in forward-loaded and deploy the same pack that gave Wales plenty to think about at the Principality Stadium.
Their change sees Minozzi move to left-wing to accommodate Jayden Hayward at full-back, with Leonardo Sarto dropping out of the match-day squad. Mattia Bellini switches to No 11.
What have the teams said?
France fly-half Romain Ntamack: “We will have to produce a similar defensive performance to the one against England, and in attack we need to have more options. Against England we had a strategy that we applied perfectly but we also need to win matches with our attack and not just our defence.
“The squad wants to enjoy themselves when we have the ball. In attack we need to look at our drills. One of the objectives of the weekend will be to succeed in our planned moves.”
France head coach Fabien Galthié: “We have kept faith in the team that beat England. We had no reason to question those players. Arthur Vincent is a player who has the perfect career path and he’s trained really well with us.”
Italy head coach Franco Smith: “The debut against Wales served as a lesson. We are trying to improve our mechanisms and trying to show the best version of ourselves.”
Italy forwards coach Giampiero De Carli: “It was a tough game against Wales and it will be for all the teams that play them. We had good opportunities to put points on the scoreboard and we didn’t take advantage of them. We have to be more clinical.
“At this level, in a tournament like the Six Nations, every action can have its importance.”
Any interesting statistics?
- France have won the previous eight meetings, the latest a 47-19 success in a World Cup warm-up in Paris last August.
- Italy’s last victory in the fixture was in 2013 in Rome (23-18), one of just two wins by them over France in 20 Six Nations meetings.
- Italy have never won in Paris but they did win 40-32 in Grenoble in 1997 – their sole win on French soil in 22 attempts. Raphael Ibanez, now France’s team manager, won the second of his 98 caps that day.
- The Azzurri are hoping to end a 23-match losing run in the championship – the worst sequence in history.
- Italy carried the ball for 850 metres against Wales – the highest total in round one. Matteo Minozzi was responsible for 143 metres of this.
- France kicked the ball 33 times from open play in round one – more than anyone else – while Italy kicked it just 18 times.
- The two teams both made five entries into the opposition 22. But whereas Italy came away with nothing, France registered 24 points – the most clinical return in round one.
What time does it kick off and is it on TV?
France v Italy, Sunday 9 February, Stade de France.
The match kicks off at 3pm in Paris and will be broadcast live on BBC1. There will be live text commentary on the BBC Sport website and app.
On duty will be the same team of officials as for last Sunday’s France-England match.
Andrew Brace of the IRFU, a grade eight violinist and former Belgium scrum-half, is the referee. Nigel Owens (Wales) and Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand) will assist, and Ireland’s Brian MacNeice is the TMO.
What are the line-ups?
Anthony Bouthier; Teddy Thomas, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Vincent Rattez; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Cyril Baille, Julien Marchand, Mohammed Haouas, Bernard le Roux, Paul Willemse, Francois Cros, Charles Ollivon (capt), Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Romain Taofifénua, 20 Boris Palu, 21 Cameron Woki, 22 Baptiste Serin, 23 Matthieu Jalibert.
Jayden Hayward; Mattia Bellini, Luca Morisi, Carlo Canna, Matteo Minozzi; Tommaso Allan, Callum Braley; Andrea Lovotti, Luca Bigi (capt), Giosué Zilocchi, Alessandro Zanni, Niccolo Cannone, Jake Polledri, Sebastian Negri, Abraham Steyn.
Replacements: 16 Federico Zani, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Marco Riccioni, 19 Dean Budd, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Giovanni Licata, 22 Guglielmo Palazzani, 23 Giulio Bisegni.