Defending champions France kick off their Six Nations defence in Rome on Sunday when they take on an Italy side with the rare opportunity to win a second Championship game on the spin.
Les Bleus swept all before them in 2022 and are on a 13-match winning run that has seen them beat the All Blacks, South Africa and Australia, as well as win the Grand Slam.
However, with a trip to Dublin to face Ireland next weekend, they could be forgiven for overlooking Italy in their Six Nations opener.
The Azzurri beat Wales 22-21 on the final weekend of last year’s Six Nations to end their run of 36 matches without a victory.
Some mixed results since then have provided more questions than answers and it looks set to be a tough start to 2023 for Kieran Crowley’s men.
Italy vs France Betting Tips
The exciting Tommaso Menoncello starts on the wing for Italy, having scored the opening try when the teams met last year in Paris.
Menoncello was expected to feature in midfield but instead, it will be Luca Morisi who starts at inside centre, with Juan Ignacio Brex outside him.
With Paolo Garbisi still not fit due to a knee injury, Tommaso Allan will run the side from the number 10 shirt alongside scrum-half Stephen Varney, while up front, Simone Ferrari is named at tighthead.
Wing Ethan Dumortier will make his debut for France following Gabin Villiere’s injury and will join Thomas Ramos and Damian Penaud in the back three.
Yoram Moefana will play at inside centre in place of the injured Jonathan Danty, who will miss the tournament with a knee injury, while lock Cameron Woki’s wrist problem provides Thibaud Flament with a chance to partner Paul Willemse in the second row.
Handicap 3-Way – France -21 @ 5/6
Italy have a habit of pushing France hard and then falling off in the second half of matches, as was the case last year when they led early on but were eventually outclassed.
Les Bleus have won the pair’s last 12 meetings following a poor run in Rome, where they lost in both 2011 and 2013.
Their winning margins over the last five matches have been 28, 13, 29, 40 and 27 points and with them having done so in four of those meetings, beating the -21 handicap does not seem impossible.
With Mathieu Jalibert on the bench, they have a flyhalf who could exploit the wider spaces provided by tired forwards in the closing stages of matches and the reining champions could run away with it again.
Gael Fickou Anytime Tryscorer @ 5/4
Another who could benefit when the Italians start to fatigue is Gael Fickou, who is the type of player beloved by any coach.
The 28-year-old has been around forever and is the fulcrum of his team’s defence, having remarkably controlled their line from both centre positions and the wing.
With no Danty inside him, Fickou may be required to do more carrying during this Six Nations but as good as he is without the ball, he is arguably just as good with it, mixing clever lines with wonderful offloads.
His skill with ball in hand often sees him lay on assists but he is no stranger to the try line and having crossed in Rome in both 2017 and 2021, may get his chance to do so again on Sunday.
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