There’s a lot riding on the final match of Pool A in Lyon. Host nation France will want to book their place in the quarter-finals with a perfect four wins from four pool phase matches.
Maxime Lucu starts for Les Bleus at scrum-half in place of injured captain Antoine Dupont, Grégory Alldritt returns to the back-row for François Cros, and Louis Bielle-Biarrey gets the nod over Gabin Villiere on the left wing. Charles Ollivon captains, in Dupont’s absence, for the first time since the French tour of Japan in July 2022 – while club duo Lucu and fly-half Matthieu Jalibert start together at the hinge for the first time since the same tour.
Italy, who have quarter-final ambitions of their own despite last week’s big defeat by New Zealand, will want to spoil those plans. For the Azzurri, the equation is simple: a win by seven points or more will extend Kieran Crowley’s spell in charge by one more match.
Crowley has made five personnel changes and three positional switches to his starting XV from the team who lost 96-17 last time out. Simone Ferrari, in his 50th test, Epalahame Faiva and Pietro Ceccarelli form a new-look front row, while Niccolò Cannone returns to the second row to partner Federico Ruzza.
Tommaso Allan moves back to fly-half after starting at full-back against the All Blacks, Paolo Garbisi returns to inside-centre, and Ange Capuozzo switches to full-back after playing three of his past four tests on the right wing.
FIXTURE: France v Italy
GROUND: OL Stadium, Lyon (35,520)
KICK-OFF: 21:00 local time (GMT+2)
France have won 44 of 47 test matches against Italy, dating back to the first on 17 October, 1937. Italy’s last win came in Rome during the 2013 Six Nations, 14 matches ago.
Despite their record against France, Italy can look to their most recent meeting, in the 2023 Six Nations, as a possible roadmap to victory. That match finished 29-24 in France’s favour – but it needed a late try from Jalibert, and some strong defence against a powerful Italian maul as the clock ticked down to secure the win for Les Bleus.
KEY TALKING POINT
The focus in France is on two players who aren't involved – scrum-half Antoine Dupont and first-choice hooker Julien Marchand. The former is due to meet a specialist on Monday to see if his broken cheekbone has healed enough for him to be available if France reach the quarter-finals. The latter, however, is struggling with a thigh injury picked up in the tournament opener against New Zealand. Word is his hopes of playing in the last eight are fading fast.
Tommaso Allan v Thomas Ramos. Not the same position, but kicker against kicker in a match that could be closer than many expect. Italy’s Allan has not missed a kick off the tee at Rugby World Cup 2023. France’s Ramos has kicked 41 points in two matches – including 12 conversions in the 96-0 win over Namibia. He’s averaging over 17 points a match in 2023 - and has not missed more than two kicks at goal per game this season.
Damian Penaud has scored the most tries of any player in 2023, with 12. He comes into the game on a six-game try-scoring streak, the longest of his career and is third on France’s all-time leading scorer list with 33. Only Serge Blanco (38) and Vincent Clerc (34) have more.
Karl Dickson (England). No referee at Rugby World Cup 2023 has awarded more scrums than the former professional scrum-half. He averages 21 per match.
FRANCE Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Louis Bielle-Biarrey; Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Uini Atonio; Cameron Woki, Thibaud Flament; Anthony Jelonch, Charles Ollivon (captain), Grégory Alldritt
Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Reda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, François Cros, Baptiste Couilloud, Yoram Moefana, Melvyn Jaminet
ITALY Ange Capuozzo; Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Paolo Garbisi, Montanna Ioane; Tommaso Allan, Stephen Varney; Simone Ferrari, Hame Faiva, Pietro Ceccarelli; Niccolò Cannone, Federico Ruzza; Sebastian Negri, Michele Lamaro (captain), Lorenzo Cannone
Replacements: Marco Manfredi, Federico Zani, Marco Riccioni, David Sisi, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Fusco, Luca Morisi, Lorenzo Pani