2013 italy beat france
Losing to Italy has left scars on the psyche of French rugby.

“Just to let you boys know, this will be the longest 19 minutes you’ve had for a long time,” Azzurri head coach Kieran Crowley tells his staff. The hour mark has just passed and, for the first time in the match, Italy are in the lead thanks to a penalty kick from fly-half Tommaso Allan, making it 24-22. The Italian side is frantic. In 46 matches, they have only beaten France three times. Could this be the fourth? The date is 5th February 2023 and this generation of Italian players have never been so close to their goal.

The euphoria lasts just four minutes, after which Romain Taofifenua's pass finds Matthieu Jalibert, fresh on the field, to score France's fourth try. Thomas Ramos's conversion makes it 24-29. It's France's 44th victory over Italy.

Quesada's memories

A few months later in Lyon, in the pool phase of Rugby World Cup 2023, France added their 45th with an even bigger scoreline, 60-7 - a record score against their transalpine neighbours. "France's forwards were very powerful. To stop their attacks, we need an extra man or two," lamented Italy captain Michele Lamaro. "It's as simple as that. I don't know what you expect as an answer. You are drawn in by the opposing forwards and the wide spaces open up. We were ready but we lost the last two games unfortunately. It's hard to accept."

Since then, Crowley has departed, leaving his place to Gonzalo Quesada, who knows perfectly well how Les Bleus play having coached several clubs in France (Racing 92, Stade Français, Biarritz Olympique).

But it was Quesada's spell as assistant coach of the XV de France between 2008 and 2011 that catches the eye. He was in charge of the kicking game in Marc Lièvremont's coaching team, which also included Didier Retière and Emile Ntamack. He was involved when Italy beat France (22-21) for the first time in the 2011 Championship.

He remembers the rage of the head coach, who refused to speak to his players after the match. He knows how a wounded France team can perform. France would finish runners-up in the World Cup just a few months later.

In 2024, France once again have bruises to heal following their quarter-final elimination from the World Cup, and their opening defeat to Ireland in this year's Championship. It's not a given that the victory over Scotland has provided them with any reassurance. In this context, Quesada knows better than anyone the challenge that awaits him in Lille this Sunday.

The last time Nazionale won

He will be able to conjure up old memories, dating back to February 2013: a 23-18 Azzurri victory at Rome's Stadio Olimpico. It was France's second defeat in a row in Rome. Philippe Saint-André's men got off to a bad start in round one against the Italians - led by Jacques Brunel, who would succeed Philippe Saint-André with France six years later - two years after the huge upset at the Stadio Flaminio.

It all went wrong from the off, with the kick-off going straight into touch and Italy scoring their first try after just eight minutes. Miraculously, against a rampant Azzurri led by Sergio Parisse and Luciano Orquera, France took the lead at the break thanks to tries from Louis Picamoles and Benjamin Fall, having been outscored 5-13 in the first quarter.

The Italians never let go of the ball, defended relentlessly, and mastered their rugby. The French, on the other hand, struggled to get their game going, lacking cohesion and fighting spirit.

At 18-13 in the 50th minute, the French counter stopped and the Italians, with impressive endurance, went into a frenzy with a 58th-minute try from Martin Castrogiovanni and a 40-metre drop goal from Kristopher Burton ten minutes later. It sealed a 23-18 victory for Italy, despite a late fight-back from Les Bleus.

14 wins in a row

Surprisingly, Italy have not led at half-time against France since 2006 in Paris. Since that match, the Italians have trailed at half-time in the last 21 meetings between the two nations.

France goes into this 49th match on the back of a 14-game winning streak stretching back eleven years. This is the longest winning streak in the history of this fixture since France won 18 consecutive matches between 1937 and 1995.

February 2013 was the last time the Squadra Azzurra beat Les Bleus. The first time was in Grenoble in March 1997. Only six players from Italy's 2024 Guinness Men's Six Nations squad were born at that time. None of them have ever won against France. All of them must now write their own history.