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France ‘in period of resilience’ as Italy visit in Six Nations

France face Italy on Sunday in the Six Nations tournament. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP

Out of form France welcome Italy in Lille in the Six Nations on Sunday with the hangover of the opening defeat to Ireland and October’s Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss to South Africa still lingering. 

Fabien Galthie’s Les Bleus have edged past Scotland since the humbling to Ireland earlier this month but the head coach and his side remain in the spotlight of criticism from fans, former players and the French media. 

The absence of captain and poster boy Antoine Dupont, playing sevens in Canada this weekend before the Paris Olympic Games, as well as injuries to first-choice fly-half Romain Ntamack, lock Thibaud Flament and flanker Anthony Jelonch have only increased those voices. 

Galthie, who took over in 2019 after years of under-achievement has made just two changes to face the Azzurri.

He has decided against altering his stuttering half-backs in Maxime Lucu and Matthieu Jalibert against the Italians, who have only beaten France twice this century. 

“We hear and read a lot about the performances of our players, the comments saying we should change the team,” 54-year-old Galthie told reporters on Friday. 

“When we decide a team lineup we ask ourselves lot of questions.  

“What is important with us as a group is trust, and the values of the human being,” the former France captain added. 

Giant teenage lock Posolo Tuilagi, the son of former Samoa back-rower Henry, makes his first start as flanker Paul Boudehent comes in for injured skipper Gregory Alldritt in a back-row re-shuffle.

Francois Cros shifts across to No 8 with flanker Charles Ollivon captaining the side as he did during Galthie’s two opening Six Nations campaigns.

Galthie continues to go against the selection habit of his predecessors like Jacques Brunel, Guy Noves and Philippe Saint-Andre of shuffling their cards on a weekly basis.

“You can have a look at considering a massive turnover of players but we’re convinced that it doesn’t work, not with this team,” Galthie said. 

“We’re convinced, what we’re experiencing now will make us stronger.  

“We’re in a period of resilience, transition, but we believe strongly that we’ll win again and we’ll back at our best,” he added. 

Top 14 touch

Coaching opposite Galthie in Lille, with France’s usual Stade de France home under renovation for the Olympics, will be ex-Argentina fly-half Gonzalo Quesada. 

Quesada, 49, took over after the World Cup having had spells as a player and a coach with Stade Francais, Racing 92, Beziers, Toulon and Narbonne as well as a stint in Les Bleus’ set-up between 2008-11. 

“Going against France for me is always special,” Quesada told reporters. 

“I spent 24 years of my professional life in France, it was the French national team that gave me my chance as a coach,” he added. 

Quesada has made six changes from the 36-0 thumping by Ireland two weeks ago with five members of his backline including Toulouse’s fleet-footed full-back Ange Capuozzo based in the Top 14. 

Italy are eyeing just their second Six Nations victory since 2015, and a maiden win in the tournament on French soil.

“We made the decision to start all the players who play in France and are available,” Quesada said. 

“They’re used to playing against French players and it’s not just a detail.

“France are a team that are very dear to me, that’s why it’s important that we show what we’re really about,” he added.

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