The word "Angleterre" has been cropping up in French press chatter after last week's victory over Ireland, but Christophe Dominici, as cautious off the field as he is brash on it, urged restraint.
"We can't pretend we haven't thought about England," said the Stade Français wing. "But if we have a failure before that, it won't be the final that everyone is waiting for. We are a team renovated and reorganised, and therefore we're fragile. The first away match [against Wales next month] or the first defeat will be a decisive test for this young team."
Whatever pans out before England's visit for the Six Nations' denouement, it is a safe bet that neither Dominici nor any one else in Paris expects that "first defeat" to befall France against Italy this afternoon. The Azzurri record stands at two wins in 21 Six Nations matches, and last Sunday they were soundly beaten 50-9 by Clive Woodward's Roman invaders. The Italians are, nevertheless, taking a positive view of the fixture list, arguing that their tough pair of openers will set them up nicely for the obvious "target" match against Scotland in Rome in a fortnight.
"We broke the English defensive line four times," said John Kirwan, the coach, "which was three more than Australia managed in the World Cup final. What we have to do now is be as ruthless as England when we get into scoring positions."
To that end, perhaps, the two outside backs will sit on the replacement's bench: Manuel Dallan and Nicola Mazzucato give way to Matteo Barbini and Mirco Bergamasco, while the attacking full-back, Andrea Masi, is out with a hamstring injury. The loss of Masi gives a first Test start to the latest "nuovo italiano", Roland de Marigny, who had 10 minutes or so as a replacement against England. Born in Durban to parents from Mauritius, De Marigny, normally a fly-half, played for Natal in the 1996 Super 12, the Blue Bulls against the 1997 Lions and the Northwest Leopards against England's midweek XV in 2000 - the same year he pitched up in Italy. "With Roland and [fly-half Rima] Wakarua on the field, I'll have two capable footballers," Kirwan said.
France will seek a more complete performance than in the 35-17 defeat of the Irish without their playmaker-in-chief, Frédéric Michalak. The Toulouse No 10 reported back on Monday with painful bruising in the upper torso, and headed home to concentrate on getting fit for the trip to Wales. In turning to the uncapped Julien Peyrelongue, of Biarritz, as Michalak's replacement, France's coach, Bernard Laporte, relied on good club form as his guide. That leaves Jean-Baptiste Elissalde, with five caps, as both the senior half-back and first-choice goal-kicker. "Italy didn't play badly against England," warned Laporte. "It was England's power that made the difference."Reuse content