Mallett changes six in Italy team for France

Italy coach Nick Mallett has made six changes to his side for the Six Nations visit of France to Rome’s Stadio Flaminio on Saturday.

Racing Metro pair Andrea Lo Cicero and Carlo Festuccia come in for prop Salvatore Perugini and hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini respectively while Carlo Del Fava replaces fellow South-African born Quintin Geldenhuys in the second row.

In the backs Andrea Masi moves to full-back with Luke McLean dropping to the bench and Tommaso Benvenuti coming in on the right wing.

Luciano Orquera regains his place at fly-half from Australia-born Kris Burton and Gonzalo Garcia is preferred at inside centre to Alberto Sgarbi.

Italy’s team manager Luigi Troiani admitted that the team selection was influenced by next week’s likely wooden spoon decider against Scotland at Murrayfield, although he denied that meant Italy were essentially writing off this game, one in which they have leaked 96 points over the last two seasons.

“It’s a choice made to give certain players a rest and also to freshen up the team and stimulate other players who up until now have had little space in the starting line-up,” he said.

“There are no first choice and second choice players, we have 30 to 34 players of a top level.

“Apart from one or two like (captain) Sergio Parisse who is indispensible, we have some good players but the others are of the same level.

“Playing Festuccia instead of Ghiraldini or Lo Cicero instead of Perugini doesn’t mean anything, it’s not a decision to not win.

“Giving the chance to players who didn’t play last week gives them even more stimulus, and suggesting we’re not trying to win is disrespectful to the players playing on Saturday.”

Last season Italy were thumped 46-20 in Paris but that was nothing compared to the 50-9 humbling the French dished out two years ago in Rome.

And Masi, another who plays his club rugby in France — eight of Italy’s starting line-up play in France including five at Racing Metro — admits that this is possibly Italy’s hardest fixture every year.

“It’s a team we’ve struggled a lot against recently, they’re technical but also physical and those are the type of teams who put us in difficulty when they move the ball a lot.

“But as ever we’ll give our all and we’ll see what happens at the end.”

Masi will particularly have an eye on his opposite number, Toulouse full-back Maxime Medard, back in the side after missing the defeat at Twickenham two weeks ago due to injury.

“He’s a fantastic player who’s in amazing form because last year was difficult for him but now he’s back and he’s putting up the numbers,” said Masi.

And despite France losing the chance to defend the Grand Slam following their England loss, Masi does not expect them to be any less motivated.

“We know the French well and they are always motivated, even if they can’t win the Grand Slam they will give their all,” he said.

“With all the pressure they have in France from the media and their staff, they’re not a team who go onto the pitch feeling calm and relaxed, they always play to their maximum, trying to win and to put as many points as possible on the board.”

Italy have lost three out of three so far in the tournament and sit bottom while France are still in with a chance of the title having won their opening two games against Scotland and Ireland.

Italy team (15-1)

Andrea Masi; Tommaso Benvenuti, Gonzalo Canale, Gonzalo Garcia, Mirco Bergamasco; Luciano Orquera, Fabio Semenzato; Sergio Parisse (capt), Robert Barbieri, Alessandro Zanni; Carlo Del Fava, Santiao Dellape; Martin Castrogiovanni, Carlo Festuccia, Andrea Lo Cicero

Replacements: Leonardo Ghiraldini, Salvatore Perugini, Quintin Geldenhuys, Paul Derbyshire, Pablo Canavosio, Kris Burton, Luke McLean

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