Six Nations Rugby: France v Italy 14:00 Sat
France will look to show their place in the World Cup final last year was warranted as they begin their 6 Nations campaign on home soil against Italy, as Paddy Power make the French favourites to lift the tournament crown this year.
Les Blues were branded the worst side to reach the final of rugby’s biggest competition after losing twice in the pool stages and somehow clinging on to claim a win in the semi-finals against 14-man Wales.
Under former head coach Marc Lièvremont they certainly furthered their reputation for being enigmatic and aloof on their way to the final, with Lièvremont frequent outbursts against his side throughout the tournament adding to air of confusion that surrounded the French squad throughout their time in New Zealand.
Now they go into the 6 Nations under Philippe Saint-Andre, a familiar face thanks to his time in charge of Sale and Gloucester, hoping to flex their muscles against their Northern Hemisphere rivals on their way to a fifth 6 Nations title since 2002.
Before that however they must negotiate their way past Italy, who have shown only glimpses of development since their introduction to the tournament in 2000 and demonstrated the danger they pose against Les Blues last year.
While they finished bottom once more the Azzurri claimed a historic win over France in Rome, where a late Mirco Bergamasco penalty helped them claim a narrow 22-21 win.
That came after a Ronan O’Gara drop-goal denied Italy another famous win against one of the big boys, and new Italy boss Jacques Brunel will be aiming to take them to the next level and covert narrow losses to victories.
Aironi winger Giovanbattista Venditti his debut ahead for the game in Paris, with Tommaso Benvenuti lines alongside Alberto Sgarbi to form Italy’s new-look centre partnership.
Saint-Andre has made five changes to the France side that lost to New Zealand in the World Cup final, with Wesley Fofana handed his debut at centre alongside Aurelien Rougerie.