Noves shines for O'Shea, but Italy want France upset

Justin DAVIS
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When Italy meet France for the 40th time at the Stadio Olimpico, coach Conor O'Shea (L) will be hoping to scare a far bigger opponent for the second game in succession

Italy coach Conor O'Shea's admiration for France counterpart Guy Noves will face the acid test on Saturday when the sides meet in a highly-anticipated Six Nations clash in Rome.

With nine French championships and four European Cup titles in a 22-year spell with Toulouse before taking the France helm two years ago, Noves hardly needs an introduction to rugby fans.

Neither to O'Shea, who said: "I'm a big fan of Guy Noves, after over 20 years of success with Toulouse he's got France back playing the game everyone knows them for. They're playing some marvellous rugby."

But when Italy meet Les Bleus for the 40th time at the Stadio Olimpico, O'Shea will be hoping to scare a far bigger opponent for the second game in succession.

Despite losing 33-7 to Wales and suffering a nine-try, 63-10 defeat to Ireland, Italy have reason to be cautiously optimistic after running England close in a battling, yet controversial 36-15 defeat at Twickenham a fortnight ago.

Italy defiantly pushed rugby's rules to the limit on their way to giving England a scare.

Eddie Jones' men eventually recovered from trailing 10-5 at half-time to run in five second-half tries for a 17th consecutive win.

"Two weeks ago against England no-one gave us even half a chance, but 12 minutes from the end we were trailing only 17-15, well in the game," O'Shea said when he announced only three changes to his starting XV.

"We have a long road in front of us and we're here to take it. France, as I've said, have great players -- but so do we."

Italy have beaten France only three times in 39 previous encounters, the last time at the Stadio Olimpico in 2013 when France finished with the wooden spoon after a disastrous campaign under Philippe Saint-Andre.

While a look at the Six Nations table makes grim reading for Italy -- three games, three defeats, 18 tries and 132 points conceded to just four tries and 32 points mustered -- Noves is taking nothing for granted.

"We're not really in a position to boast, to do a bit like the English, to look down on Italy," said Noves.

"Our results don't allow us to do this. Especially after their performance in England, nothing is written in advance and it will be a very hard match like the others."

Italy fly-half Carlo Canna will replace injured Tommaso Allan, with Angelo Esposito in at right wing to replace Giuglio Bisegni, who has been rested due to fatigue.

With hooker Ornel Gega also injured and out of the matchday squad, Leonardo Ghiraldini comes off the bench.

France could be forgiven for wondering what kind of tactics the hosts will employ.

Italy were both lambasted, and praised, after deploying tactics against England that some experts claimed will "kill the game".

England were convinced that the delivery of scrum-half Danny Care's pass was being repeatedly interfered with by Italy players who were in an offside position, but French referee Romain Poite allowed the tactic.

With only one win from three games so far, pipping Scotland 22-16 in Paris last month, there is also pressure on Noves, who has named fullback Brice Dulin and newcomer Fabien Sanconnie among his four changes for Saturday.

Racing 92 back Dulin has been absent since the November Tests after testing positive for a banned substance, but returns in place of Scott Spedding, who struggled during France's 19-9 defeat to Ireland last time out.

Sanconnie, 22, replaces Toulon flanker Charles Ollivon who was ruled out with an ankle injury.