One year ago France were on the wrong end of the biggest upset in Six Nations history. In last year’s trip to Italy, the French were roundly humiliated as Italy outplayed them across the park to come out 22-21 winners in a highly entertaining game.
Many put the result down to French arrogance and them underestimating the Italians, and this was probably the case. It is unlikely that they will underestimate them again this year when the teams meet in Paris on Saturday.
Both sides now have new coaches, with Italy now being led by Frenchman, Jaques Brunel, and France now being coached by one of the world’s best in Philippe Saint-Andre. After the French sides humbling at the hands of Italy, then coach Lievremont declared many of the team would never wear the blue shirt again and those who are left still feel the pain of that day, according to Saint Andre.
The result was typical of Lievremont’s tenure as French boss. A side that so nearly went out of the World Cup at the pool stage that then went on to reach the final and lose by just two points. A side who would lose to Italy but go to Dublin and win as well as giving heavy defeats to Scotland and Wales.
The inconsistency marred Lievremont’s time as French boss and he will never be remembered as a great French coach despite leading them, somehow, to a World Cup Final, a Grand Slam and number two in the World Rankings. Saint Andre will though be hoping for more than that. He will target consistency and will no doubt favour a more conventional approach to Lievremont.
On the Italian side the story is completely different. With Nick Mallet being replaced after the World Cup by Brunel the new Italian coach has a tough act to follow. Mallet is arguably the best coach Italy has ever had, taking them to new levels in the Six Nations and victories over Scotland, Wales and France including winning two of their matches in the 2007 Six Nations, securing a fourth place finish in the Championship. If Brunel is to have even half the successes that Mallet had with the Italian side he will be considered a success by all accounts.
Saturday’s clash will no doubt be a chance to see where both teams are and how much the new coaches have achieved. The result should be a foregone conclusion, but the improvement shown by the Italians in recent years means that nothing should be taken for granted in this year’s championship.