New faces keep France on their toes

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The Independent Online

Franco-Italian links are the flavour of the month in Paris, with President Nicolas Sarkozy having married Carla Bruni, an Italian supermodel, in February and the ex-Mrs Sarkozy, Cécilia, announcing her forthcoming nuptials this week through the Versace fashion house. For the transalpine rugby collision at Stade de France tomorrow there are five French-based players in the Italy side, including the highly regarded captain and Stade Français No 8, Sergio Parisse (who is dating a recent Miss France).

It would have been six but Parisse's club-mate, Mauro Bergamasco, has been banned for 13 weeks after gouging Lee Byrne in Cardiff a fortnight ago. Italy – who have never beaten France in the Six Nations – have written to the International Rugby Board protesting at Welsh provocation, though they do not deny Bergamasco's offence. Tomorrow, Parisse will be partnered in the back row by Josh Sole and Alessandro Zanni. The Italy coach, Nick Mallett, played in France and later coached Stade Français to the domestic championship.

Yesterday, at the National Rugby Centre in Marcoussis, south of Paris, France's captain, Lionel Nallet and coaches – Marc Lièvremont, Emile Ntamack and Didier Retière – perched on four stools in an auditorium, each with a microphone in hand, and defended a constantly changing line-up. "There has been a lot of criticism," Lièvremont said. "We feel that one of the good things is that the spirit is good. Yes, there is a lack of continuity but the players are being kept on their toes for every game and they all want to prove their worth."

There are three more debutants tomorrow – the centre Yann David, prop Fabien Barcella and flanker Ibrahim Diarra – with the uncapped scrum-half Julien Tomas and hooker Guilhem Guirado on the bench. If these substitutes are used Lièvremont will have deployed 34 players in four matches; Nallet is the only man to have started all four.

"It would have been possible to leave out the captain too," Lièvremont said, "but we are not going to do it before the end of the Championship. As captain and pack leader Lionel has done everything we expected of him."

Diarra is the second Senegalese, after Leon Loppy in the 1990s, to play rugby for France (not counting Lièvremont himself, who was born in Dakar while his father was on military service). Diarra's brothers, Mohamed and Djibril, play for Senegal.

Lièvremont said he had not bothered calculating the points difference his side might need going to Wales into the last round of matches. The one-dimensional style against England has been on his mind, though. He called for François Trinh-Duc at fly-half to mix up the game with tactical kicking.

Tomorrow's Stade de France teams


15 A Floch (Clermont)

14 A Rougerie (Clermont)

13 Y Jauzion (Toulouse)

12 Y David (Bourgoin)

11 J Malzieu (Clermont)

10 F Trinh-Duc (M'pellier)

9 D Yachvili (Biarritz)

1 F Barcella (Auch)

2 D Szarzewski (Stade F)

3 N Mas (Perpignan)

4 L Nallet (Castres, capt)

5 J Thion (Biarritz)

6 I Diarra (Montauban)

7 F Ouedraogo (M'pellier)

8 L Picamoles (M'pellier)

Replacements: 16 G Guirado (Perpignan), 17 J-B Poux (Toulouse), 18 A Mela (Albi), 19 J Bonnaire (Clermont), 20 J Tomas (Montpellier), 21 D Traille (Biarritz), 22 V Clerc (Toulose).


15 A Marcato (Treviso)

14 K Robertson (Viadana)

13 G Canale (Clermont)

12 Mi Bergamasco (Stade F)

11 E Galon (O Parma)

10 A Masi (Biarritz)

9 S Picone (Treviso)

1 A Lo Cicero (Racing Metro)

2 L Ghiraldini (Calvisano)

3 M Castrogiovanni (Leics)

4 C Del Fava (Ulster)

5 M Bortolami (Gloucester)

6 J Sole (Viadana)

7 A Zanni (Calvisano)

8 S Parisse (Stade F, capt)

Replacements: 16 F Ongaro (Saracens), 17 C Nieto (Gloucester), 18 S Perugini (Toulouse), 19 J Erasmus (Viadana), 20 P Travagli (O Parma), 21 E Patrizio (Petrarca), 22 A Sgarbi (Treviso).