6N: France make 6 changes for Italy test in Rome
PARIS (AP) — France coach Jacques Brunel kept faith with his captain while tinkering with his lineup again to make six changes to his team ahead of the Six Nations match against Italy in Rome.
Following a report in L'Equipe newspaper that Brunel tried to take the captaincy away from Guilhem Guirado after England humiliated them 44-8 a month ago, Brunel said the hooker will remain captain until the end of the Rugby World Cup in Japan this year.
"I have been knowing him for 12 years," Brunel told a news conference. "After England, the staff, our game, our training sessions and our captain have been questioned. Guilhem has been further reinforced as captain."
Guirado will lead a side which has won only once, against Scotland 27-10 last month in Paris. Last Sunday, France was flattered to lose to Ireland by only 26-14 in Dublin.
Wesley Fofana will start in midfield in place of Gael Fickou at Stadio Olimpico on Saturday, and Maxime Medard will be at fullback as France try to finish the tournament on a positive note following another disappointing campaign.
Up front, injured prop Jefferson Poirot is replaced by Etienne Falgoux, who earns his first start with the Tricolors. Paul Willemse returns in the second row while Gregory Alldritt and Yacouba Camara start in the back row.
Brunel stuck with the halfback pairing of Antoine Dupont and Romain Ntamack, with the latter in charge of the kicking duties.
"He has been training and kicking well, I trust him," Brunel said.
France has won its last five matchups with Italy, but though the Italians will finish with the wooden spoon, they have been tough at home, giving scares to Ireland and Wales.
"We know this match will be difficult," Brunel said. "Some Italians are playing their last (international) match, they will try to surpass themselves.
"We want to show a different face this week, but the results speak for themselves. We are not at the level of some of the other teams in this championship.
"We haven't fixed everything, of course 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 has won just four matches out of 15 since he was appointed coach in January last year.
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.