The sleeping giant has awoken and France are re-establishing themselves as a global force once again. This weekend they have the chance to underline their status as Guinness Six Nations contenders away to an Italy side who are right at the start of their own journey.
Italy vs France Live
Fabien Galthié’s side twice had to settle for second place in 2020, first in the Guinness Six Nations, then in the Autumn Nations Cup, and yet there was no doubt that this was a French team on the rise, packed full of young talent and attacking verve.
In Italy, they face a team still trying to find their feet. A year ago it was Galthié throwing caution to the wind and putting his faith in youth. Now Franco Smith is doing the same.
He has a half-back pairing who were pulling the strings for the Under-20s this time last year with scrum-half Stephen Varney still eligible for the age grade side this season.
With eight caps, winger Luca Sperandio is the most experienced member of the backline. It is a gamble from Smith, but if he is placing his faith in the right players, one that could well pay off down the line.
Whether that will happen as soon as this weekend is another matter. France lost just twice in 2020, once when they had a man sent off in the first half in Scotland, and then in sudden death extra-time when they sent a largely second-string side to take on England.
Galthié has some injuries to deal with this year, notably Virimi Vakatawa in the centres and Romain Ntamack at fly-half. Vakatawa also missed the game against Italy last year, with Arthur Vincent again charged with filling the boots of the Racing 92 centre. That will be a tricky task, but with talents like Antoine Dupont, last year’s Player of the Championship, a fit-again Grégory Alldritt and skipper Charles Ollivon, this is a team that can play an all-court game.
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What they said:
Italy coach Franco Smith said: “We will show courage in taking on a France team that showed its quality during the last Guinness Six Nations and the Autumn Nations Cup. We are following our growing process to continue introducing the new generations: I cannot wait to start a Championship as important and fascinating as the Guinness Six Nations.”
France coach Fabien Galthié said: “All the players that we are following create a competition which pushes to the squad forwards. In this team and this squad, there is a lot of competition which can give us some headaches. Nevertheless we keep working on the collective experience every team, but the team is a year older now so we want to keep growing together.”