Castrogiovanni promises Olympic battle for England
France 30 Italy 12
Home advantage, albeit at a venue almost as unfamiliar to the Italians as to their visitors, will be crucial to the Azzurri when they welcome England to Rome on Saturday.
Italy's left wing, Luke McLean, said he had only ever driven past the Olympic Stadium, which is to be used for the first time in the Six Nations, with around 65,000 tickets of a possible 72,000 already sold.
The Leicester prop Martin Castrogiovanni, who regretted a couple of scrummaging lapses during France's four-tries-to-none victory that gave Italy a losing start to this year's Championship, said his only experience of the stadium had been watching Roma and Lazio play there. "It's a historic ground for football," he told The Independent, "and it will give us a great motivation to do well against England. We are used to playing at the Stadio Flaminio with a crowd of less than 30,000, and with more English fans there than Italians. Now it will be 80 per cent our own people in the crowd."
Castrogiovanni disagreed with the Welsh referee Nigel Owens' decision to penalise him at a scrum in the last 10 minutes that led eventually to France's fourth try, by the silkily impressive debutant centre, Wesley Fofana. In the first half it was an Italian scrum lost against the head that allowed a blindside break by another top French performer, the No 8 Louis Picamoles, to send Julien Malzieu past a handful of soft tackles to score.
Taking into account the first French try – scored by Aurélien Rougerie after a free-kick for Edoardo Gori's delayed put-in – and the third when a fumble between Kris Burton and Cornelius van Zyl started a counter-attack involving François Trinh-Duc and Rougerie and finished by Vincent Clerc, the Azzurri's part in their own downfall was writ large.
"I didn't bind but he [the French loosehead] didn't bind, and the loosehead should be the first to do so," said Castrogiovanni of that last scrum, which led to a line-out and a yellow card for Quintin Geldenhuys for pulling down a French maul. "All the referees are focused only on the tighthead these days.
"I think the scoreline wasn't fair, considering the possession we had. But when you're Italy against the big teams like France and England, you're underdogs and you have to be perfect. If you make a mistake you will get punished."
France's containing, counter-attacking power was reminiscent of how they almost won the World Cup final last October, despite the change of coach from Marc Lièvremont to Philippe Saint-André; the Italians branched out under their new head honcho Jacques Brunel, a Frenchman.
"Jacques wants us to attack more and that is good," said Castrogiovanni. "You will see more handling mistakes but we need to attack more like this. To win against England we will need to be perfect in defence and the set piece. We can't make mistakes because Chris Ashton and Ben Youngs will take two centimetres and make a big hole.
"We will start a big banter this week, tweeting and texting. There's my mates from Leicester: Dan Cole, Tom Croft, Geoff Parling, Ben Youngs... and Toby Flood came back for the club on Saturday, so maybe he will be involved."
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