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Monday 18 December 2017

Italy's Gower tips French to beat England

England will have to come up with the perfect defence if they are to deny France the Grand Slam, says Italy's Craig Gower.

The French put one hand on the Six Nations crown with a comprehensive 46-20 rout of the Azzuri at the Stade de France and are now just 80 minutes away from completing their first clean sweep since 2004.

Italy pushed England all the way in Rome last month but were blitzed by a red-hot France in Paris yesterday, and Gower gives Martin Johnson's under-performing side little chance of spoiling the party in Paris.

"It's going to be difficult for them," he said. "They have got many strike weapons and England's defence has got to be perfect.

"Their counter-attack is very good and they've got great speed. England have got to be on top of their game to win that one."

Centre David Marty, preferred in the starting line-up to Mathieu Bastareaud, justified coach Marc Lievrmont's selection by scoring two tries in eight minutes, both while Italy were down to 14 men with Gonzalo Garcia in the sin bin.

Winger Marc Andreu and flanker Alexandre Lapandry both scored their first tries for their country and with other tries from Imanol Harinordoquy and Yannick Jauzion and Morgan Parra kicking seven goals, the French were heading for a landslide win as they led 46-6 after 65 minutes.

But the Azzurri produced a spirited rally which brought them late tries through replacements Carlo Del Fava and Pablo Canavosio, and Mirco Bergamasco added both conversions to two early penalties to give the score a touch of respectability -- which looked unthinkable for an hour when France were simply irresistible.

France and London Irish defence coach Dave Ellis, who has been involved with the French side for a decade, admits Les Bleus are on a roll and sensed a big performance after they survived a late scare in their last match against Wales.

"Ever since the Wales game, the players have been focused," said Ellis. "There's a different attitude among the squad.

"As the week went on it got better and better and I think for an hour of the game everything went to plan."

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