The last time France played in Rome, the Italians pulled off one of the biggest upsets in Six Nations history by beating them 22-21. The French got their revenge last year with a thumping win in Paris, but what of 2013? Italy are playing all their home games this year at the 70,000 capacity Stadio Olympico – can their fans roar them on to another unlikely victory? Probably not.
Reasons to back France
My favourites to win the tournament this year, this current French vintage is a very different prospect to the one ‘coached’ by Marc Lievremont two years ago. They’ve managed to find that magic mix of flair and some hard-nosed pragmatism. Their form coming into this tournament could hardly be better, with wins over Argentina (twice) and Australia.The manner in which they tore into their opponents up front before unleashing their pacy, talented backs would have been frightening viewing for their Six Nations opponents.
Although the Italian pack are (arguably) a tougher prospect than the Aussies, one suspects that with the inspirational Dusatoir fit once more and the rampaging Louis Picamoles in terrific form that France will probably get the edge here. However, it’s in the backs that the French will truly get the upper hand. Jacques Brunel if doing a good job of getting the Italian backline moving, but in terms of fluidity and pace they’re no match for their French counterparts yet.
Reasons to back Italy
If the game were in Paris I’d give Italy no chance whatsoever, but being at home does give them a glimmer of hope. Whilst their autumn campaign wasn’t successful in terms of results, they did manage to ask a few questions of Australia and New Zealand. Their pack has always been competitive, and this year should be no exception. If they can gain parity at scrum time, and find a way of slowing down French ball at the breakdown, then we could be in for a tighter affair than people might expect. A lack of a reliable goalkicker, however, isn’t going to do them any favours if the match is tight. The Italians can’t let France build up any sort of lead, as they’re fairly useless at chasing a game. If they manage to turn the match into a cagey arm wrestle, with the passionate home support behind them, anything could happen. It’s a big ‘if’ though.
I’d love nothing more than an Italian win, but I can’t see it happening this year. This French team looks as though it could build into something special. The Italians will give them a hard game, but I can see the French pulling away in the last quarter. France by about 14.
by Gideon Heugh @GideonJH