The first match of the 2021 Six Nations will see Italy take on France in Rome, without fans in the stands.
Italy has lost its previous 27 matches in the competition and things are not looking up for this year. The Italians will enter the competition with a young, inexperienced squad, and some key injuries as well. Last time they played was in the Autumn Nations Cup in November, when they lost both their games against Scotland (17-24) and France (5-36).
France reached the final in the same competition, playing some excellent rugby, and they would have won it all if not for a refereeing error which allowed England to send the final into extra time. The French have improved steadily over the last couple of years, and they finished 2nd in last year’s Six Nations with a single loss.
Team news & lineups:
Italy will field an inexperienced lineup. There is not much depth in the squad and key man Jake Polledri is missing, as well as some other important pieces. France will field a strong lineup. They will be without Romain Ntamack, but Jalibert proved himself more than capable to take over at fly half.
Italy: 15 Jacopo Trulla, 14 Luca Sperandio, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Juan Ignacio Brex, 11 Montanna Ioane, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Stephen Varney, 8 Michele Lamaro, 7 Johan Meyer, 6 Sebastian Negri, 5 David Sisi, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 3 Marco Riccioni, 2 Luca Bigi, 1 Cherif Traore
Replacements: 16 Gianmarco Lucchesi, 17 Danilo Fischetti, 18 Giosuè Zilocchi, 19 Niccolò Cannone, 20 Federico Ruzza, 21 Maxime Mbanda, 22 Guglielmo Palazzani, 23 Carlo Canna
France: France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Arthur Vincent, 12 Gael Fickou, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon (c), 6 Dylan Cretin, 5 Paul Willemse, 4 Bernard le Roux, 3 Mohamed Haouas, 2 Julien Marchand, 1 Cyril Baille
Replacements: 16 Pierre Bourgarit, 17 Jean-Baptiste Gros, 18 Dorian Aldegheri, 19 Romain Taofifenua, 20 Anthony Jelonch, 21 Baptiste Serin, 22 Louis Carbonel, 23 Damian Penaud
France beat Italy by 31 points a couple of months ago and they did that with a second string lineup. They will field a stronger team this time around, so you have to feel that Italy’s chances are slim, particularly considering how thin their squad looks.
France has won 10 H2H meetings in a row against Italy, many by big margins, and actually none of those seemed to have been as one sided as this one, at least on paper.
This French side is looking really good, the results are more than encouraging, and there’s a lot of excitement surrounding it right now.
Look for France’s explosiveness and versatility to create big problems for the young Azzuri here. They should be in control of this game and could run away at the end considering how strong their bench is compared to Italy’s. The hosts always had problems competing in the last 30 minutes against the big boys in the Six Nations, and now with an even thinner bench than usual, and with no fans to push them from behind, trouble could be on the horizon.
I expect France to start the competition strong, they are the second favorites to win it and will not mess around with an Azzuri side which could be in for a long competition. The line is pretty high at 22.5 points, but that was to be expected. I think France should cover it. Surely nobody would bat an eye if they end up winning this one by 40. Prediction: Italy – France 10 – 38.