Date: 12th March
Kick off: 14:30
Venue: Stadio Flaminio
Have yet to win a game in this competition, and are, as ever, in a play off with Scotland for the wooden spoon. They will be hoping to stave off another defeat like the one they suffered at the hands of the English, and the recent close games against Wales and Ireland will have certainly given their confidence a boost.
Perhaps playing mind games with the French they are holding off from making their team announcement until midday on the 11th, so we do not know what changes, if any Mallett has made to the side that ran out against Wales.
Following on from their defeat at the hands of the English two weeks ago, and subsequent drop to 3rd in the table, France will be looking for a big win over the Italians to creep back up on points difference. Therefore we can expect lots of style and clever play from this team. There are three changes to the line up that ran out at Twickenham; Maxime Medard returns at full back after a thigh injury made him miss the game against England, whilst Julien Bonnaire and Sylvain Marconnet get the nod ahead of Imanol Harinordoquy and Thomas Domingo respectively. Damien Traille and Morgan Parra remain on the bench, and many have questioned why Lievremont has not used a player of Traille’s calibre.
What to expect:
Statistically all of Italy’s biggest losses have come at the hands of the French, and I do not expect this game to be any different. Expect lots of quick, clever and dominant play from the French. Italy will be valiant in their resistance effort, and I think that the close games against Ireland and Wales will have boosted their confidence, and I do think that they too will manage to get across the line for a try or two of their own.
All Eyes On:
Mirco Bergamasco on goal kicking duty for the Italians and likely to be playing in his usual spot at centre. Bergamasco has played for French sides Stade Francais and Racing Metro, so is used to the creative flair of French rugby. This will certainly prove an advantage to his play as he looks to counter the force that is Vincent Clerc, and break through the French line with his substantial bulk. He has demonstrated in previous games that he is key to Italian play, and this game will be no different.
Maxime Medard will still be looking to make a big impact on the competition; he scored France’s only try against the Irish in Dublin, and it was in that same game that he received the thigh injury that ruled him out of the clash with England. Known for his speed and solidity at full back he will effectively break through Italian resistance, whilst also neutralising any threats to the French line, and I expect at least one try from him in this game.
Head to Head: Sergio Parisse v Sebastian Chabal
Once again we see another key battle in the Number 8 position. Chabal’s performance against England came under intense scrutiny and he faced heavy criticism for it. Lievremont has stuck by him saying that he saw nothing wrong with how Chabal played, however Seabass will be looking to silence his critics in this game.
Parisse on the other hand will be keen to lead by example and dominate his French counterpart. Another Italian player who plays club rugby in France, for Stade Francais, Parisse will want to nip any flair in the bud. Certainly Parisse has the advantage of being younger, taller and the more capped international than Chabal, who is 2 inches shorter but the heavier of the two.
Both are key components in their team; Parisse especially as it is likely he will wear the captain’s armband. Neither will scrimp on making the big hits and tackles that need to be made, and I think this tussle will play a big role in this game.
Weather: Sunny intervals, max of 13°C, light breeze. Good rugby conditions.
Last Year’s Result:
Played on 14th March, at the Stade de France. France 46 – 20 Italy. The Italians struggled to hold off the French attack, but managed to break through the French line at the end, scoring 14 of their points in the last 6 minutes of the game.
Full credit to the Italians for holding their own against the Irish and Welsh, however this game will be on par with the game against England. The French will dominate and come away with a clear victory. France by 20.