World Rugby

France Vs. Italy Six Nations Preview: Les Bleus' Title Push On Life Support

France Vs. Italy Six Nations Preview: Les Bleus' Title Push On Life Support

An underperforming France has a major opportunity for a Six Nations rebound against Italy, which it hasn't lost to on French soil since 1997.

Feb 24, 2024 by Briar Napier
France Vs. Italy Six Nations Preview: Les Bleus' Title Push On Life Support

Depending on who you ask, France’s Six Nations win against Scotland before the two-week break was either deserved, a stroke of fortune or downright robbery of the Scots.

That’s probably not what Les Bleus wanted their first victory of this year’s competition to be best remembered for, but alas, this is the position they are in.

And for a squad many tipped pre-tournament to be right with Ireland as Grand Slam favorites, it has been a bit of a disappointing campaign as a whole.

Fortunes can change, good and bad, in a hurry in the Six Nations, however, and as France now has to hope Ireland has a major miscue in its remaining matches to have a chance to take back the Six Nations title, all Les Bleus can do is take care of their own business the rest of the way.

A visiting Italy, which impressed at times in Round 1 against England before feeling the wrath of the Irish in Round 2, has a rare win in France on its mind with a fresh-faced squad. Meanwhile, France is looking to get back on track in a big way.

Here’s all you need to know ahead of France and Italy’s Six Nations clash this weekend, part of FloRugby’s ongoing analysis and coverage of the Six Nations: 

Team News


Welcome to the big time, Posolo Tuilagi. 

The 19-year-old lock is the newest standout in the esteemed Tuilagi family, which also features uncle and England star Manu and numerous relatives with stints on the Samoa national team, most notably, uncle Alesana. 

For the first time this weekend, however, Posolo will be starting an international match — a major test of his ability and a major show of trust in the teenager. 

After impressing in his first two senior caps off of the bench against Ireland and Scotland earlier in the tournament, Fabien Galthie has opted to give the monstrous 6-foot-4 second-rower a spot in Les Bleus’ starting XV, as Paul Gabrillagues drops out of the matchday squad to give way to Tuilagi, with Romain Taofifenua backing him up off of the bench. 

Tuilagi’s promotion is one of two changes to France’s XV from the Scotland match, the other of which is coming out of necessity — and it’s a big absence. 

Captain, and important starting No. 8 Gregory Alldritt, already a replacement captain with Antoine Dupont out preparing for rugby sevens at this summer’s Paris Olympics, suffered a leg injury at Murrayfield and won’t go; in steps Charles Ollivon (who has captained France under Galthie before) to wear the armband, and Toulouse back-rower Francois Cros to fill in at No. 8 at the Stade Pierre-Mauroy, with the latter’s spot at openside flanker filled by Paul Boudehent in response. 

Everything else remains the same: Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Damian Penaud, and Thomas Ramos make up an awesome back line, with others, such as  Gael Fickou at center and Matthieu Jalibert at fly-half also keeping their spots in the starting lineup. 

Toulon back-row Esteban Abadie is on the bench and could make his senior debut against the Italians, as well.


The Azzurri need a spark, and coach Gonzalo Quesada is flinging plenty of new stuff at the French this weekend in an attempt to build forward momentum and spring them forward to a rare Six Nations victory. They certainly need some positivity right now.

Italy’s starting lineup features six changes from its 36-0 thumping at the hands of Ireland two weeks ago.

Giacomo Nicotera (hooker) and Giosue Zilocchi (tighthead prop) arrive in the front row — an area the Italians often were outclassed in against the Irish — to try and help their team build a stronger pack, whereas No. 8 Ross Vintcent and backside flanker Riccardo Favretto, are tipped for their first starts in an Italy shirt. 

Scrum-half is another area seeing its share of turnover in the Italy XV, as France-born Martin Page-Relo is expected to be Quesada’s third different starter at the position in three Six Nations matches, while Federico Mori is the final swap in the squad at inside center. 

Among the returning starters, Michele Lamaro is switching from his No. 8 role to openside flanker, with Juan Ignacio Brex and Tommaso Menoncello moving to outside center and right-wing, respectively. 

Some of the more exciting and well-known names on the Italian squad, such as Ange Capuozzo and Monty Ioane, still are there and ready to try and make an impact against the French, whereas Zebre lock Matteo Canali also could be in line for a senior debut off of the bench. 

But make no mistake about it: this is an uphill climb, no matter how you slice it, for the Italians, who haven’t won in France since 1997 and against it at all since 2013.

Key Head-To-Head Matchup

France vs. Itself

Perhaps if Galthie wants to get the best out of his squad and make a statement this weekend that France seriously can contend for the fast-fleeting Six Nations title, he may have to instill that Les Bleus need to earn the right to be called contenders. 

Their first two performances of this year’s Six Nations have done little to show they’re truly in the mix at the top of the table.

There was Ireland’s bonus-point blitz of France in the opening round in Marseille, of course — France’s most lopsided home defeat in the competition since 1914 — and then France’s victory against Scotland that many argued shouldn’t have been one at all, due to the fact that the Scots had what would’ve been a go-ahead try at the death at Murrayfield ruled to have been held up at the line after a lengthy TMO review. 

Sure, Italy traditionally is the whipping boy in the Six Nations, as painfully true as that fact is to Azzurri fans, and they make for the perfect opportunity (especially at home) for France to get back on track and make a final charge toward the top the rest of the way, hoping Ireland slips up in its Grand Slam hunt all the while. 

But what has France done in this year’s Six Nations to indicate that it’s ready to pounce from the opening kick? 

Remember, Italy gave England a scare on opening weekend — the 27-24 final was the Azzurri’s closest game against the English, whom they’ve never beaten — and France clearly was second-best early on against Scotland, falling behind for a sizable chunk of the game. 

An Italian stunner this weekend would be a result for the ages, even with France underperforming, but Les Blues have an opportunity to shut down any talks of defeat quickly Sunday and remind viewers why they were so feared for much of last year.


On one hand, if there was to be a year in which Italy would shock Les Bleus and win on French soil for the first time this century, this might be the year to do it. 

A repeat of France’s 60-7 battering of the Azzurri in the Rugby World Cup pool stage is highly unlikely; Galthie’s squad doesn’t have nearly the amount of firepower it had in Lyon that night, and after being hammered in its own right by Ireland and escaping the Scotland match with a win in controversial circumstances, it’s very apparent through two Six Nations rounds that this is not the same caliber of France we saw throughout much of the past year. 

Plus, Italy has given France a bit of trouble in the Six Nations in recent times, such as last year in Rome, when only a second-half Jalibert try allowed Les Bleus to escape the upset, so the Azzurri staying competitive this weekend isn’t something out of the realm of possibility. 

But the accomplishment of actually pulling off a win in France? Italy might just need to keep dreaming for that to happen. 

In almost every position compared to Italy, France has the superior player in its squad, even with all the absences of key men. 

The form hasn’t been there in this year’s Six Nations, but the raw talent Les Bleus have at their disposal can help them produce moments of magic (see Bielle-Biarrey’s try against Scotland, for instance) to help get them over the line, even if Italy makes things interesting and plays like a squad with nothing to lose — as it probably should. 

Italy won’t be run off of the pitch like it emphatically was against Ireland, but France will never truly look as if it will be in any danger, either. 

Make it 15 straight wins in all competitions against the Azzurri for Les Blues this weekend.

France 24, Italy 5

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