France vs. Italy: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 6 Nations Clash

Danny Coyle@dannyjpcoyleFeatured ColumnistFebruary 7, 2014

France vs. Italy: 5 Key Battles That Will Shape 6 Nations Clash

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    France got into their 700th Test match hoping to wipe out the memory of one of their most surprising defeats in those 700.

    Italy turned Philippe Saint-Andre over in Rome last year in a miserable championship for Les Bleus.

    Now France have a chance to put themselves in the box seat of this year’s 6 Nations with a win at home over the Azzurri on Sunday.

    Italy’s pack struggled up front against Wales, whereas France had the wood over England on the scrum. That contest will be crucial if the visitors are to get a foothold in Paris.

    Elsewhere, there are some intriguing matchups that should make this a fascinating clash.

    Here are five of them.

1. Louis Picamoles vs. Sergio Parisse

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    In boxing parlance they say styles make fights, and these two certainly come to the party with different skills in their armoury.

    This is a clash between panache and piano-shifting, subtlety vs. the sledgehammer.

    Not that the highly skilled Parisse can’t barrel his way forward should the need arise. But the Italian skipper comes with the ball skills of a Harlem Globetrotter to go with his running and tackling game.

    Picamoles has a more agricultural approach to his work.

    The Toulouse man was out-carried last weekend by Billy Vunipola, while Parisse showed glimpses of his deft handling and great link work against Wales.

    If Picamoles can punch holes in the Italian rearguard with his carrying, he will set a strong platform for France to batter their visitors.

    Parisse has the job of nullifying his opposite man while applying his class to make Italy’s limited possession count.

2. Mathieu Bastareaud vs. Michele Campagnaro

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    The bulldozer vs. the new boy will be an intriguing head-to-head on Sunday.

    Bastareaud was largely shackled by England’s defence last weekend, whereas Campagnaro enjoyed the element of surprise as a relative unknown.

    His first try was taken superbly while his interception betrayed a keen poacher’s eye.

    He will not sneak onto the Stade de France turf under the same cloak of anonymity as he did in Cardiff in Round 1, and his defensive capabilities may come under a stiffer examination in Paris.

    Bastareaud may well be keen to give the young man a hard-hitting welcome to the French capital and it will be fascinating to see how Campagnaro stands up to it.

3. Jules Plisson vs. Tommy Allan

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    The combined age of the two No. 10s in this fixture totals just 42. Their total caps between them comes to just five.

    Allan looked comfortable last weekend although his kicking radar was on the blink a little, while Plisson looked assured without pulling up any trees against England.

    With France likely to enjoy more possession than last week, the Stade Francais man will have greater scope to show his wares, while Allan can’t afford to pass up any chances for penalty points that come his way.

    Time for these two 10s to make their transition from boys to men.

4. Bernard Le Roux vs. Mauro Bergamasco

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    Le Roux has the unenviable task of deputising for the injured French skipper Thierry Dusautoir, but he made a good fist of it against England.

    He was a pest on the floor, forcing more than one breakdown turnover, and tackled himself to a standstill.

    Bergamasco isn’t quite the force of nature he was a few years ago, but he will give Le Roux a run for his money in the turnover stakes. As ever, the battle between the two No. 7s will be key.

5. Nicolas Mas vs. Alberto De Marchi

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    Mas goes about his work in a quiet way, but his status as one as France’s finest scrummagers will be put to the test by his opposite man this weekend.

    Both sides depend on a powerful front five effort to play from, so this contest is crucial to decide which set piece will gain the upper hand.

    De Marchi comes in for Michele Rizzo, who did not enjoy a pleasant afternoon against Adam Jones in Cardiff.

    He will need to ensure a clean channel for his hooker as well as withstand the power of Mas. It should be a great tussle.