6N: Italy looks to end losing streak against shaky France
Italy wants to give three of its centurions an appropriate send-off and halt its unwanted losing streak in the Six Nations on Saturday.
And it knows it will have a decent opportunity against a shaky France in front of more than 50,000 home fans at the Stadio Olimpico.
Captain Sergio Parisse, Leonardo Ghiraldini, and Alessandro Zanni, all forwards with more than 100 test caps, most of them losses, should be at the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year, but this match likely marks the last time they turn out on Italian soil.
Parisse and Zanni — who is in the reserves — are 35, a year older than Ghiraldini.
"They always have the same energy every week," Italy coach Conor O'Shea says. "It's difficult sometimes to have so much energy after a match like last Saturday's (a 57-14 loss to England), but when I see Sergio, Alessandro, and Leonardo fighting always more in training ... I believe even more that a great performance on Saturday could be the right acknowledgement for them and for the whole group."
The thrashing from England at Twickenham was Italy's record-extending 21st successive defeat in the Six Nations. The Italians fought throughout, however, and will take encouragement from that on home turf, where they are a different prospect.
In their two previous home games, they gave serious scares to Ireland and Wales.
"It wouldn't be bad to make everyone forget about the match against England, but also to improve our numbers and our image for the fans and the media and everyone," scrumhalf Tito Tebaldi says. "From the first match against Scotland to the Ireland match it was absolutely a growth, and we managed to pinpoint the areas to improve on match after match and work on the approach we had to have."
France has won only once against Scotland 27-10 last month. The Tricolors blew a huge lead against Wales, and were humbled by England and Ireland on the road.
"We are under pressure," France coach Jacques Brunel says. "We've only won one match. We have to show something different against Italy.
"The facts speak for themselves. We're a level below the other nations, so we find ourselves alongside Scotland and Italy in the second carriage. It's down to us to prove, in our final game, that what we showed against England and Ireland isn't the real face of the France team."
Brunel has won just four matches out of 15 since he was appointed coach in January last year. He was in charge of Italy from 2011-16, and the Azzurri's last win in the tournament came under his tenure.
"We know this match will be difficult," he says. "Some Italians are playing their last (international) match, they will try to surpass themselves.
"There are still things we need to work on. We will carry on, working hard and, with the World Cup to come, we are hopeful we can get it right."
Brunel made six changes, giving center Wesley Fofana a chance to express himself after injury.
Italy: Jayden Hayward, Edoardo Padovani, Marco Zanon, Luca Morisi, Angelo Esposito, Tommaso Allan, Tito Tebaldi; Sergio Parisse (captain), Jake Polledri, Abraham Steyn, Federico Ruzza, David Sisi, Tiziano Pasquali, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lovotti. Reserves: Luca Bigi, Cherif Traore, Simone Ferrari, Alessandro Zanni, Sebastian Negri, Guglielmo Palazzani, Ian McKinley, Luca Sperandio.
France: Maxime Medard, Damian Penaud, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Yoann Huget, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Louis Picamoles, Yacouba Camara, Gregory Alldritt, Paul Willemse, Felix Lambey, Demba Bamba, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Etienne Falgoux. Reserves: Camille Chat, Dany Priso, Dorian Aldegheri, Paul Gabrillagues, Arthur Iturria, Baptiste Serin, Camille Lopez, Thomas Ramos.
AP Sports Writers Jerome Pugmire contributed to this report.