Italy have succumbed to losses to Wales and Ireland in Rome so far this Six Nations, but have made a good account of themselves in both matches, as they were defensively resolute, and troubled the opposition with ball in hand. With the French in disarray currently, O’Driscoll believes that Italy can beat their neighbours if they play at the standard they have been.
Speaking on ‘Off The Ball’, the 133-cap Ireland international said that this is a ‘huge, huge game’ for Italy coach Conor O’Shea, hoping to win his first Six Nations match with Italy. In truth, there could not be a better opportunity than now, with a beleaguered French team that looks incapable of functioning. Les Bleus have been poor for so long that it seems very unlikely that they will be able to bounce back from their forlorn performance against the Irish on Sunday.
With that said, O’Driscoll said that a loss to Italy could well spell the end of coach Jacques Brunel’s tenure with the national team. Brunel has endured a horrendous spell at the helm of France, overseeing just four wins in 18 matches. After dismissing Guy Noves for a similar record, many expected him to be gone after the England match, however, he salvaged some pride with a win over Scotland. Nonetheless, it is a very real possibility that he may be sacked, even with the World Cup only months away.
With such a disparity between the players that France have at their disposal and the team’s performances, it is no surprise that O’Driscoll believes this could be the end for Brunel if they lose. However, the only saving grace for the French is that they lost to Italy in this game eight years ago, with manager Marc Lievremont under immense pressure as well. He stayed in the job and France went on to make the World Cup final later that year, and came agonisingly close to winning. However, this year, it seems impossible that Brunel could repeat that feat.
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