France vs Italy: Six Nations Championship preview


France will look to build on last weekend’s impressive Six Nations victory over England when they face Italy at Stade de France on Sunday.

Les Bleus have won their last four home matches, their longest winning streak in a decade, and look a good bet to extend that against an Italian side still reeling from last weekend’s whitewash by Wales.

Franco keeps the faith

Italy interim coach Franco Smith has resisted tearing up his teamsheet following the abysmal 42-0 drubbing under the Principality Stadium roof.

Smith makes just one change to his starting line-up, Leonardo Sarto paying the price for his defensive horror show in Cardiff.

Jayden Hayward starts at full-back and will provide more defensive solidity than Matteo Minozzi, who impressed with ball in hand but missed crucial two tackles against Wales which resulted in tries.

Smith has stuck with his policy of selecting two playmakers in Tommaso Allan and Carlo Canno. He will hope they repay the faith shown in them after some abject kicking and decision-making last weekend.

France make one enforced change after powerful centre Virimi Vakatawa was ruled out with a tricep injury.

He is replaced by 20-year-old Arthur Vincent, who comes in for his first start. The Montpellier centre was introduced in the final minute against England, failing to touch the ball, but will get plenty of opportunities to showcase his talents on Sunday.

Odds stacked against Azzurri

Last weekend’s capitulation in Cardiff extended Italy’s Six Nations losing streak to a record 23 games.

The last thing they needed was another away day against a France side brimming with confidence after clipping England’s wings.

Italy have lost all 10 away fixtures against France in the Six Nations, although they did run Les Bleus close on their last championship meeting in Paris in 2016 (they met in Marseille two years ago). On that occasion Italy led with five minutes remaining, only for Jules Plisson to deny them a rare victory with a long-range penalty.

Given the different trajectories of both teams, a repeat seems unlikely.

Key match-up

The battle of the No 7s will make for intriguing viewing as Charles Ollivon comes up against Jake Polledri.

France skipper Ollivon shone on his first Six Nations start, scoring two tries against England. He also chipped in with 15 tackles, missing none, and claiming eight line-outs.

Gloucester flanker Polledri spearheads an Italian back row which is full of ball-carrying threat. He was well-shackled against Wales but will hope to make more of an impact in Paris.

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France: 15 Anthony Bouthier, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Vincent Rattez, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Anthony Dupont; 1 Cyril Baille, 2 Julien Marchand, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 4 Bernard Le Roux, 5 Paul Willemse, 6 Francois Cros, 7 Charles Ollivon (c), 8 Gregory Alldritt.

Replacements: 16 Peato Mauvaka, 17 Jefferson Poirot, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Boris Palu, 21 Cameron Woki, 22 Baptiste Serin, 23 Matthieu Jalibert.

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