France out to erase memory of shock defeat
February 1, 2013
Could Italy repeat their stunning triumph over France in 2011 when the two sides go head-to-head in Rome on Sunday? © Getty Images
Italy will launch their latest bid to avoid the Six Nations wooden spoon against France at the Stadio Olimpico in Rome on Saturday.
Jacques Brunel hit the headlines when he took charge of Italy in 2012 by claiming his side had the potential to lay claim to the northern hemisphere crown 'within three years' but while they appear to be on an upward curve having pushed Australia all the way in their latest clash, they remain odds on favourites to prop up the table come the end of the competition.
The hosts will be dreaming of a repeat of their famous championship victory over France in 2011 that sent shockwaves through the rugby world but face a side that was arguably the most impressive of the European sides in the autumn in despatching Australia, Argentina and Samoa - a run of results that carried them into the top four of the IRB world rankings.
Italy remain heavily reliant on the likes of Martin Castrogiovanni, Sergio Parisse and Andrea Lo Cicero and still lack the kind of strength in depth available to France coach Philippe Saint-Andre who is spoilt for choice in the majority of positions and as a result they are many people's favourites for the title.
Italy - Player to Watch: Centre Tommaso Benvenuti is no stranger to the Test match stage with 23 caps to his name but appears to be in-form going by this recent try against Toulouse. He is still only 22 and has been tipped to take the next step in his development during this year's Six Nations.
Italy - Team News: Italy have made three changes to the side that pushed Australia close in the autumn. Treviso scrum-half Tobie Botes gets the nod ahead of team-mate Edoardo Gori in the most notable of the changes. Elsewhere, Treviso's Luke McLean is drafted onto the left wing to replace the injured Mirco Bergamasco while Simone Favaro replaces Robert Barbieri at openside. Gori drops to a new-look bench that also features Kris Burton, Paul Derbyshire, Alberto de Marchi and Gonazlo Canale.
France - Player to Watch: Thierry Dusautoir has been missing from the international stage for almost a year and will surely have a point to prove having seen the captaincy pass to lock Pascal Paper in his absence.
France - Team News: Dusautoir is recalled at the expense of Yannick Nyanga in one of six changes to the side that started the 22-14 victory over Samoa in November. Yoann Huget comes in for the injured Brice Dulin at fullback while Benjamin Fall gets nod on the left wing with Vincent Clerc also sidelined through injury. Maxime Machenaud is preferred at scrum-half with Morgan Parra dropping to the bench while loose-head Yannick Forestier and hooker Dimitri Szarzewski come in for Thomas Domingo and Benjamin Kayser respectively.
Morgan Parra insists France will not be taking Italy lightly
Key Battle: So much often hangs on Italy captain Sergio Parisse and he is rarely off his game but he may not get everything his own way with a certain Louis Picamoles looming large in France's ranks. Rest assured that both will leave their mark on this game and each other.
Trivia: There are only two survivors from the famous 2011 defeat to Italy in the France squad for Sunday's re-match - fullback Yoann Huget and flanker Thierry Dusautoir.
Stats: The 2002 clash between these two sides at the Stade de France in Paris produced five yellow cards - France's David Auradou and Italy's Diego Dominguez, Carlo Checchinato, Mauro Bergamasco and Matthew Phillips.
"One of the biggest challenges I have is convincing the players of their own ability and potential to challenge the best."
"He's (Frederic Michalak) playing at scrum-half for Toulon, but I pick him at fly-half with France. With Jonny Wilkinson at Toulon, Brock James, Luke McAlister, James Hook (all foreigners playing at fly-half for French clubs) you have to find a fly-half."
Prediction: There will be no repeat of Italy's shock victory in 2011 with a much more focused and hungry France side set put down an impressive Six Nations marker.
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