IRB Rugby World Cup 2015: France vs Italy Preview

Written by Darry Worthington for @Hollywoodbets. Follow them both on Twitter and Facebook now!

France vs Italy | Saturday 19 September | Twickenham, London | 21:00

Saturday will see our first all-European affair when France take on neighbours Italy at the iconic Twickenham. It has been an underwhelming 2015 for both sides so far.

Although the Italians managed to avoid the wooden spoon in the Six Nations by beating Scotland in the third round, they then lost to the same opposition in two warm-up games staged in August. The French had a shocking Six Nations campaign by their standards, which saw them only win two matches and finish the tournament in fourth spot. The warm-up games that Les Bleus have participated in have seen a mixed bag of results. They lost to England by five points then beat the same opposition by five points the following week.

The last time the two sides met was during this year’s Six Nations. The match saw France run out 29-0 victors at a soaked Stadio Olimpico. This was France’s 32nd  victory over the Italians since the two met for the first time in 1937. In the 35 encounters played between the pair France has averaged 29.54 points per game, while their opponents average only 10.61. Two of Italy’s three victories have come in the past five years. They managed to beat their fellow Europeans in the 2011 and 2013 editions of the Six Nations. Both these wins were in Rome however, and the Italians are notorious for being poor travellers. While it is highly unlikely that the Azzurri will repeat the feats of 2011 and 2013, this game still promises to be a classic.

IRB Rugby World Cup 2015 Fixtures

To Win (80mins)
France  1/10
Draw  30/1
Italy  6/1

France  (-15.5) 9/10
Italy  (+15.5) 9/10

Are they the unspotted dark horse or just an under-performing bunch of French blokes? That is the question one is left to ask after examining their recent form and make up of the squad. They do have the potential to repeat the feats of the classes of 1987, 1999 and 2011 and advance to the final, but they’re going to have to show a lot more consistency than they have in the early parts of 2015. While Philippe Saint-Andre will expect his charges to win this encounter, he knows just how big a threat the Italians can be, particularly if the weather conditions are of a wet nature. The French have an exciting backline full of game changers but will need their forwards to front up when they take on the Italians. The Azzurri pride themselves on their set-piece play and the scrum in particular. However, if the French pack can keep their discipline and focus on the task at hand, they should be able to gain the upper hand at set-piece time.

Although Saint-Andre is yet to announce his match day squad there are a few players who are sure to take the field. The likes of  forwards Thierry Dusautoir, Louis Picamoles and Dimitri Szarzewski are vastly experienced and have come up against this Italian scrum on numerous occasions. In the backline, the “Little General’ Frederic Michalak will help marshal his inexperienced colleagues. There are also two well-traveled South Africans that Saint-Andre can call upon. While Rory Kockott and Scott Spedding have played little Test rugby, they are seasoned campaigners. Spedding is likely to get the nod at fifteen, while Kockott is more likely to get a run off the bench.

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While Italy will take heart from their two relatively recent wins over France, they will know that it’s highly unlikely to happen again this weekend. The best result the Azzurri can hope for is a double bonus point loss. The Italians were hit with three big injuries in their final warm-up fixture against the Welsh two weeks ago. Their talismanic skipper, Sergio Parisse, suffered a bruised knee which subsequently had to be drained. Parisse will miss the Test against France but should return for the Azzuri’s second round fixture. On top of this, centres Lucas Morisi and Gonzalo Garcia picked up injuries. Morisi has been ruled out of the tournament with a torn ligament, while Garcia, like his captain, should be available for Italy’s second fixture. Jacques Brunel is going to have to hope his fringe players can step into the spotlight and come up with some big performances.

They will have the veteran prop Martin Castrogiovanni available. The big man along with veteran flanker Mauro Bergamasco will help soften the blow of losing the vastly experienced Parisse. In the backs, fullback Luke Mclean and scrumhalf  Edoardo Gori will have to help guide their younger compatriots who will come in to fill Garcia and Masi’s boots. While the Italians knew it was going to be a tough ask for them to get anything from this game, with Parisse now out and some young centres coming into the fray, they truly have a mountain to climb.

VERDICT: France (-15.5) 9/10
With Parisse and Co. out, the French have a much easier task. If Les Bleus play to their potential they should be able to thump this weakened Italian side.

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