The Rugby World Cup looms large on the horizon for France and Italy, making their contest in Paris on Friday vital to their hopes in Japan.
Typically, France have produced a mixed warm-up series so far. They were superb a fortnight ago, moving the ball quickly as they downed Scotland 32-3 in Nice, while defending intelligently.
Fast forward to last week, however, and things look very different. Scotland at BT Murrayfield always prove to be a difficult beast to tame and France were overawed – going down by three points.
How will they look against Italy? The Azzurri have confidence following the commanding win against Russia that eradicated the heaviness that showed in defeat to Ireland a week prior.
Both Jacques Brunel and Conor O’Shea have made plenty of changes but one of the more fascinating aspects of this match will be seeing two great No.8s in Louis Picamoles and Sergio Parisse going at it hammer and tong.
Italy must also have revenge on their mind following their Round Five defeat to France in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
They enjoyed long periods of dominance in Rome, only to be stung by two Damian Penaud tries. The wing is not in action here but there are plenty of others sharpening their games before the long flight east.
France v Italy, Stade de France, Paris, Friday 30 August, 20.10
KEY BATTLE – THE BACK ROW
Two world-class No.8s go head-to-head on Friday night in a mouth-watering battle in Paris.
There is not a lot more to be said about Sergio Parisse, the heartbeat of Italian rugby for the best part of the last 15 years.
The 35-year-old is used to getting things his own way on the pitch but in Louis Picamoles he comes up against one of the toughest in the business.
Physical even by No.8 standards, Picamoles is out to make the No.8 jersey his own heading into the tournament on his first start of the summer.
The supporting cast will be fun to watch too – particularly Premiership-based Jake Polledri and France flyer Yacouba Camara.
GUINNESS SIX NATIONS – STATS POWERED BY AWS
- Yoann Huget was the second top try-scorer in the 2019 Guinness Six Nations, dotting down four times – two less than England’s Jonny May.
- Strong at the breakdown, France’s Antoine Dupont made six turnovers – only teammate Mathieu Basteraud made more.
- Despite being on the losing side, Italy enjoyed 60% possession and 65% territory when the two sides met in Round Five.
- Damian Penaud made 131 metres on the ground, more than double the 55 Louis Picamoles made – the second most in the match.
WHAT THEY SAID:
Italy head coach Conor O’Shea said: “We want to continue from where we left off.
The last time France and Italy played each other…😳
— Guinness Six Nations (@SixNationsRugby) August 30, 2019
“The victory against Russia gave us some good points but it is in the past now. Our next objective is France.
“It will be a tough match and very interesting for a number of reasons. We want to show our true worth trying to take home a positive result to get ever closer to peak form with regards to the Rugby World Cup.”
- Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack will combine as the half-back pairing for France. They paired up three times during the 2019 Guinness Six Nations.
- Dupont continues at scrum-half for the third straight match while Yoann Huget makes his first appearance of the summer.
- Tito Tebaldi and Tommaso Allan continue their half-back pairing for Italy.
France: 15. Maxime Médard, 14. Yoann Huget, 13. Sofiane Guitoune, 12. Wesley Fofana, 11. Gaël Fickou, 10. Romain Ntamack, 9. Antoine Dupont, 1. Jefferson Poirot, 2. Camille Chat, 3. Rabah Slimani, 4. Arthur Iturria, 5. Romain Taofifenua, 6. Wenceslas Lauret, 7. Yacouba Camara, 8. Louis Picamoles
Replacements: 16. Guilhem Guirado, 17. Cyril Baille, 18. Emerick Setiano, 19. Félix Lambey, 20. François Cros, 21. Baptiste Serin, 22. Virimi Vakatawa, 23. Thomas Ramos.
Italy: 15. Jayden Hayward, 14. Mattia Bellini, 13. Michele Campagnaro, 12. Luca Morisi, 11. Matteo Minozzi, 10. Tommaso Allan, 9. Tito Tebaldi, 1. Simone Ferrari, 2. Luca Bigi, 3. Marco Riccioni, 4. Alessandro Zanni, 5. Federico Ruzza, 6. Abraham Steyn, 7. Jake Polledri, 8. Sergio Parisse
Replacements: 16. Federico Zani, 17. Andrea Lovotti, 18. Tiziano Pasquali, 19. Dean Budd, 20. Sebastian Negri, 21. Guglielmo Palazzani, 22. Carlo Canna, 23. Tommaso Benvenuti