A clash of rugby cultures – both of which are in need of a boost.
Italy vs France at Stadio Olimpico (Saturday, March 11, 9.30am HKT)
What we can expect
France need to perform. Really need to perform. They’ve promised, in fits and starts, to play some of that old-fashioned French rugby, but it’s almost as if when they realised what they’re about to do they get scared and stop doing it, or spoil the whole thing with something silly. As for Italy, we know the make up of the team. What we won’t know is if they have anything to follow ‘The Fox’.
The return of Carlo Canna at 10 in place of the injured Tommaso Allan is the big story of Conor O’Shea’s selection for Italy’s third and final home match of the tournament. He has made two other changes to the starting XV, with Angelo Esposito replacing Giuglio Bisegni on the wing and Leonardo Ghiraldini coming off the bench for the injured Ornel Gega at hooker. Truth be told, however, and despite winning over hearts and minds with their anti-ruck ‘Fox’ policy against England last time out, this isn’t a winning side – even against a misfiring French outfit.
Matchday 23: 15 Edoardo Padovani, 14 Angelo Esposito, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Luke McLean, 11 Giovanbattista Venditti, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori; 1 Andrea Lovotti, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 4 Marco Fuser, 5 Andries Van Schalkwyk, 6 Braam Steyn, 7 Simone Favaro, 8 Sergio Parisse (c). Bench: 16 Tommasso D’Apice, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Dario Chistolini, 19 George Biagi, 20 Maxime Mbanda, 21 Giorgio Bronzini, 22 Tommaso Benvenuti, 23 Luca Sperandio.
Guy Novès has made four changes to the side that lost in Dublin a fortnight ago. Brive’s blockbusting back row Fabien Sanconnie finally gets a long-overdue chance alongside Kevin Gourdon and Louis Picamoles, while Brice Dulin returns at fullback, Virimi Vakatawa is on the wing, and Julien Le Devedec is back in the engine room. Arguably Novès’ biggest change, however, was forced by injury to Racing 92 scrum-half Maxime Machenaud. On Wednesday, the coach issued an SOS to Castres’ prodigy Antoine Dupont – the 20-year-old takes his place on the bench as cover for the 22-year-old starting 9 Baptiste Serin.
Matchday 23: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Noa Nakaitaci, 13 Remi Lamerat, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Camille Lopez, 9 Baptiste Serin; 1 Cyrille Baille, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 3 Rabah Slimani, 4 Julien Le Devedec, 5 Yoann Maestri, 6 Fabien Sanconnie, 7 Kevin Gourdon, 8 Louis Picamoles. Bench: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Eddie Ben Arous, 19 Paul Jedrasiak, 20 Bernard Le Roux, 21 Antoine Dupont, 22 Francois Trinh Duc, 23 Yoann Huget.
All eyes on: Antoine Dupont
He may be on bench-warming duty, but many French rugby fans treat Antoine Dupont as the second coming. No pressure, Toto…
Key battle: The back rows
It’s unfair to say, given this is their first match together, but Sanconnie, Gourdon and Picamoles could become one of the great back row combinations in French rugby. But Italy’s Simone Favaro and Sergio Parisse have impressed in an Azzurri side that has, on the whole, struggled in this Six Nations.
For all Italy’s cunning last time out, their Six Nations has been poor – and this French side should be too good. If Dupont gets his chance off the bench in the second half, a tired Italian defence could find itself in a spot of bother. France by 20.
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