France target return to form
March 12, 2011
Will French winger Maxime Medard be back amongst the tries at the Stadio Flaminio in Rome? © Getty Images
France are out to keep their Six Nations title hopes alive when they tackle Italy in Rome on Saturday.
Defeat to England at Twickenham last time out ended Les Bleus' hopes of back-to-back Grand Slams but they remain in the hunt for the Championship crown and know a big win at the Stadio Flaminio will keep their title defence very much alive.
Italy's battling display in defeat to Wales a fortnight ago restored some of the confidence blown away by England last month but left them rooted to the bottom of the Six Nations table and on course for yet another Wooden Spoon.
France may be struggling to conjure the kind of form that propelled them to glory last year but they have had little trouble in dealing with Italy of late and will be favourites to extend that dominance this weekend.
Italy - Player to Watch: Luciano Orquera has been handed the playmaking duties once again, having been dropped in the wake of the mauling at the hands of England. Has he learned from that painful lesson?
Italy - Team News: Andrea Masi starts at fullback for the first time since February 2009, replacing Luke McLean, while Gonzalo Garcia returns to the starting side after missing most of the last 12 months through injury. He takes Alberto Sgarbi's place at inside-centre and Tommaso Benvenuti earns his first start in the tournament on the right wing. Orquera replaces Kristopher Burton at fly-half and lock Quintin Geldenhuys drops to the bench, with Carlo Antonio Del Fava taking his place. Tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni is the only player in the front row to retain his spot following the defeat to Wales, with Andrea Lo Cicero and Carlo Festuccia coming into the side for Salvatore Perugini and Leonardo Ghiraldini respectively.
France - Player to Watch: No.8 Sebastien Chabal has weathered a storm of criticism and needs to repay the faith shown by his coach with a strong showing against the Azzurri.
France - Team News: France make four changes to the side beaten by England last time out. Sylvain Marconnet takes over from Thomas Domingo at loose-head prop and Julien Bonnaire gets the nod at openside flanker ahead of Imanol Harinordoquy, who drops to the bench. Maxime Medard returns at fullback in place of Clement Poitrenaud after missing the Twickenham clash through injury. At scrum-half, the visitors were forced into a late change after Dimitri Yachvili was ruled out with a tight problem. Morgan Parra starts as a result, with Montpellier's Julien Tomas promoted to the bench.
Key Battle: Experienced French loose-head Marconnet is set to go head-to-head with grizzled Italian tight-head Martin Castrogiovanni in one of a series of intriguing forward match-ups that will go some way to defining the contest as a whole.
Trivia: Eight of Italy's starting XV ply their trade in France's Top 14 - Andrea Masi (Racing Metro), Gonzalo Canale (Clermont Auvergne), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais), Luciano Orquera (Brive), Andrea Lo Cicero (Racing Metro), Carlo Festuccia (Racing Metro), Santiago Dellape (Racing Metro) and Sergio Parisse (Stade Francais).
Stats: Chabal's total of three tackles against England at Twickenham was eclipsed by all but one of his team-mates, with fullback Clement Poitrenaud notching just the one.
"Giving the chance to players who didn't play last week gives them even more stimulus, and suggesting we're not trying to win is disrespectful to the players playing on Saturday." - Italy's team manager Luigi Troiani defends Nick Mallett's selection policy
"I watched the [England] game again. His performance, as well as Clement Poitrenaud's and Yoann Huget's, did not seem disastrous to me." - France coach Marc Lievremont defends the under-fire Sebastien Chabal
The Odds: France have won by over 40 points on two of their last three visits to Rome and bet365 will offer you 22/1 for a win by 41-45 points this weekend.
Fantasy: Medard is back in the France line-up and will be hoping to add to the two tries he has scored in this year's Championship - is he in your ESPNscrum International Fantasy Rugby Game team?
Prediction: Home advantage will benefit Italy but recent history suggests they will struggle to back up their showing against Wales with an equally committed and industrious display. As a result, a French selection that continues to bemuse many should still have enough to get the job done.
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