France makes 5 changes to face Italy in 6 Nations
PARIS (AP) — France has made five changes to face Italy in the Six Nations on Friday, with coach Jacques Brunel’s side looking to stem an eight-match winless streak amid disciplinary problems.
Brunel dropped several players who went out drinking into the early hours without his permission following the 32-26 defeat against Scotland on Feb. 11. Among them was winger Teddy Thomas, who has been a rare plus for a struggling France side with three tries in two matches. In light of the suspensions, four of the five changes are in the backs.
“We’re playing Italy amid particular circumstances, we can’t hide that, with recent defeats weighing on us,” Brunel said Wednesday. “Those who are coming into the side have an opportunity to stake their claim. Circumstances have given them the chance to stake a claim. I’m expecting them to show initiative and enthusiasm.”
Burley center Mathieu Bastareaud returns to win his 43rd test cap and will partner Geoffrey Doumayrou in midfield.
Bastareaud had been dropped from the squad before the Six Nations started after receiving a three-week suspension for using anti-gay language during a match with his club, Toulon.
“Mathieu (Bastareaud) brings us his distinctive style of play and his experience,” Brunel said. “He seems to have taken on a new dimension (with Toulon).”
Hugo Bonneval replaces Geoffrey Palis at fullback, while Benjamin Fall and Remy Grosso are selected on the wings.
The fifth change sees Paul Gabrillagues come in at second row for Arthur Iturria — who was among those suspended and according to some French media reports got involved in a scuffle on the streets in Edinburg.
Experienced flyhalf Francois Trinh-Duc and skillful center Gael Fickou are on the bench.
The match will be played at Stade Veldrome in Marseille. France has played there before, notably during the 2007 World Cup on home soil, but is hosting a Six Nations game there for the first time.
France lost its opening game to Ireland 15-13 in Paris after conceding a last-gasp drop goal and wasted a 20-14 halftime lead against the Scots.
Hooker Guilhem Guirado captains the side with the forwards unchanged as Brunel looks for some stability amid a turbulent period for Les Bleus.
Italy has won just two of its 18 Six Nations matches against France, with its last victory coming in February 2013, when Brunel was in charge of the Azzurri.
Current Italy coach Conor O’Shea has made three changes to his lineup.
Leonardo Ghiraldini comes in as hooker and Andrea Lovotti as loosehead prop, with Luca Bigi and Nicola Quaglio dropping to the bench.
Zebre flanker Maxime Mbanda gets his first start in this year’s tournament, in place of Abraham Steyn.
Italy is also still looking for its first win in the tournament, having lost its opener against England 46-15 and been defeated 56-19 by Ireland.
France: Hugo Bonneval, Benjamin Fall, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Remy Grosso, Lionel Beauxis Maxime Machenaud; Marco Tauleigne, Yacouba Camara, Wenceslas Lauret, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Paul Gabrillagues, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado, Jefferson Poirot. Replacements: Adrien Pelissie, Dany Priso, Cedate Gomes Sa, Romain Taofifenua, Kelian Galletier, Baptiste Couilloud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Gael Fickou.
Italy: Matteo Minozzi, Tommaso Benvenuti, Tommaso Boni, Tommaso Castello, Mattia Bellini, Tommaso Allan, Marcello Violi; Sergio Parisse (captain), Maxime Mbanda , Sebastian Negri, Dean Budd, Alessandro Zanni, Simone Ferrari, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lovotti. Reserves: Lucas Bigi, Nicola Quaglio, Tiziano Pasquali, George Biagi, Federico Ruzza, Edoardo Gori, Carlo Canna, Jayden Hayward.