A game between the two bottom sides in the Six Nations would normally not provide too much intrigue, but there should be plenty of spectators interested in Italy’s tactics when they host France on Saturday.
Italy remain without a point having lost each of their three games to start the campaign.
But the Azzurri head into their penultimate match having provoked both admiration and anger with the tactics they used in a 36-15 defeat to holders England.
For long periods it looked as if Italy were in position to stunningly end England’s 16-match winning run as they baffled Eddie Jones’ men by not committing men to the ruck, meaning there was no offside line and the Azzurri forwards were free to step across and cut down the space available to their opponents.
The ploy left Jones furious, and a France side whose only win so far came against Scotland will not be taking Italy lightly as a result.
Defeats against England and Ireland have left France’s hopes of regaining the title looking extremely slim, but Les Bleus will be keen to finish strongly regardless and prove the signs of progress they displayed in the end-of-year internationals in 2016 were not false dawns.
“We want to feel like we’re making constant progress…”
— RBS 6 Nations (@SixNationsRugby) January 25, 2017
HEAD TO HEAD
WHAT HAPPENED IN 2016?
France started their previous Six Nations campaign with an unconvincing victory over Italy at the Stade de France. Jules Plisson’s late penalty salvaged a 23-21 win for Les Bleus after Sergio Parisse and Carlo Canna had edged the Azzurri ahead.
Maxime Mbanda (Italy)
It was Italy’s controversial defensive tactics that caught the eye at Twickenham, and if they are to keep France at bay then flanker Mbanda will be key. He has made the third-most tackles (46) in the competition, while the two players above him on the list – Jonny Gray and Kevin Gourdon – have played 57 minutes more than him.
Louis Picamoles (France)
France’s game is built on their massive pack and the star among the forwards has been back row Picamoles, who leads the way in defenders beaten (13) and offloads (9) in the Six Nations this year. His 235 metres gained are the most by any forward in the tournament.
Italy: Edoardo Padovani, Angelo Esposito, Michele Campagnaro, Luke McLean, Giovanbattista Venditti, Carlo Canna, Edoardo Gori; Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Lorenzo Cittadini, Marco Fuser, Dries van Schalkwyk, Braam Steyn, Simone Favaro, Sergio Parisse (captain).
France: Brice Dulin, Noa Nakaitaci, Remi Lamerat, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Camille Lopez, Baptiste Serin; Cyril Baille, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Rabah Slimani, Julien Le Devedec, Yoann Maestri, Fabien Sanconnie, Kevin Gourdon, Louis Picamoles.
Conor O’Shea (Italy): “The great Italian side of the ’90s was a horrible side to play against. It was physical, it was in your face. We have to be horrible to play against and then we can evolve. By the 2019 World Cup I want us to be the team that no one wants in their pool.”
Guy Noves (France): “We don’t have the means to boast, to be a bit like England; to play Italy and look down on them. Our results don’t let us do that. Therefore I hope that the players are well aware that Italy have got this match marked down. That’s normal, especially after their performance in England.”
– Italy have lost their last 10 games in the Six Nations, only once have they gone on a longer such run (14 – 2000-2002); in fact only four times in the history of the Five/Six Nations has any team gone on a longer losing run (France 17, Scotland 15, France and Italy 14).
– Italy have lost their last nine home games in the Six Nations, this after winning four of six in Rome immediately before that; another defeat would equal the Five/Six Nations record for consecutive home defeats (France – 10, 1911-1921).
– Les Bleus’ last away win in the Six Nations came in Rome in 2015. Since then they have lost five on the bounce away from home, their worst run since losing the same amount between 1956 and 1958.
– France have scored just two tries in total so far. They have never scored fewer than six in a Six Nations campaign.
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