France v Italy preview: Team news, kick-off time, line-ups and stats for the Six Nations clash
New France coach Guy Noves has handed four players their first caps
Sevens player Virimi Vakatawa starts on the wing for Les Bleus
Italy head coach Jacques Brunel also gives debuts to four players
The opening game of the 2016 Six Nations will feature plenty of fresh faces when France take on Italy at the Stade de France.
There is a new head coach taking charge of his first game, France’s Guy Novès, up against a coach whose reign already feels over in Jacques Brunel.
Brunel, a former France assistant coach, is stepping down after the tournament and while under his tenure Italy has only accepted one Wooden Spoon in four years, you sense another is only a few weeks away.
France’s makeover has injected some much-needed optimism back into Les Bleus after that Rugby World Cup humiliation at the hands of the All Blacks.
As rebrands go it’s a comprehensive one – none of the backs from that quarter-final drubbing in Cardiff remain, although Wesley Fofana would be involved were it not for injury.
Hopes are high for the four debutants Novès has gone with in his starting XV along with three others on the bench, hoping that they can add plenty of energy and attitude to the side.
Italy’s changes are far less inspiring, aside from Carlo Canna at fly-half who feels like the best option going forward to restore some solidity in the Italian number ten jersey.
This is the first game of an exceedingly difficult schedule for the Azzurri in a tournament where little is expected of them. They have nothing to lose.
Italy have scored just 18 tries in 16 Six Nations games against France, compared with France’s 66
France have scored 20 points or more in all-but-one of their 16 Six Nations games v Italy
Les Bleus last won the Six Nations in 2010; their five subsequent finishes have been 2nd, 4th, 6th, 4th and 4th
In 2015 they conceded 62 points to New Zealand and 55 to England – the first and fourth highest points totals they have conceded in a game in their history
Italy have won just 12 of their 80 matches in the Six Nations and have picked up the wooden spoon 10 times in 16 seasons.
They have conceded 40 tries over the last two Six Nations.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
A stocky, human wrecking-ball of a centre, Danty was the Top 14’s Young Player of the Year last season, but he’s far from one-dimensional. His power and ability to make yards are matched by his skills with ball in hand.
Italy: Sergio Parisse
If the Azzurri are to be successful, so much depends on the performance of their talismanic captain Parisse. The Stade Français stalwart missed most of his country’s Rugby World Cup campaign through injury and will be keen to hit the ground running upon his return to Test rugby.
2015: France won 29-0, Stadio Olimpico
2014: France won 31-10, Stade de France
2013: Italy won 23-13, Stadio Olimpico
2012: France won 30-12, Stade de France
2011: Italy won 22-21, Stadio Flaminio
2010: France won 46-20, Stade de France
2009: France won 50-8, Stadio Flaminio
2008: France won 25-13, Stade de France
2007: France won 39-3, Stadio Flaminio
2006: France won 37-12, Stade de France
France: 15 Maxime Médard, 14 Hugo Bonneval, 13 Gaël Fickou, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Virimi Vakatawa, 10 Jules Plisson, 9 Sébastien Bezy, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Paul Jedrasiak, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (c), 1 Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Jefferson Poirot, 19 Alexandre Flanquart, 20 Yacouba Camara, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Jean-Marc Doussain, 23 Maxime Mermoz
Italy: 15 David Odiete, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Garcia, 11 Mattia Bellini, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Alessandro Zanni, 6 Francesco Minto, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 George Fabio Biagi, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matteo Zanusso, 18 Martin Castrogiovanni, 19 Valerio Bernabo, 20 Andries van Schalkwyk, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Kelly Haimona, 23 Luke McLean
Date: Saturday, February 6
Venue: Stade de France, Paris
Kick-off: 15:25 local (14:25 GMT)
Referee: JP Doyle (England)
Assistant Referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Federico Anselmi (Argentina)
TMO: Graham Hughes (England)