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Wednesday 13 December 2017

Shackle-free French primed to do job on Italians

France v Italy, Stade de France, TOMORROW 2.30

This is where a contrast in culture reflects how France could well destroy Italy. While the English need a long time to put in place and activate the right systems, the French can be transformed from zeros to heroes in a week.

Just look at the World Cup semi-final and the final - the fact that they lost three matches overall in the tournament, while outplaying the All Blacks in the final.

It has always been thus. Bernard Laporte and Marc Lievremont took it in turn to move France away from their natural flair and make them disciples of defence.

The thing that makes French rugby so beautiful is their flair, the freedom of expression, the speed of thought and foot that can change a game in the blink of an eye. Welcome back Julien Malzieu.

Of course, this is not the start and end of France. Indeed, the foundations of their game are a dominant scrum, an intact lineout, powerful carriers and the athleticism of their back row, all as a feeder system for their flashy backs. Enter Wesley Fofana.

The problem was the claustrophobic clampdown on heads-up rugby in favour of the structure, patterns and slow-as-you-go attitude passed on in Europe by England's World Cup-winning side of 2003.

It seems like a generation ago that France cut loose with unbridled, unrestricted joy. This could be the hour we fall in love with them all over again. It is over to you Philippe Saint-Andre.

Verdict: France

France: M Medard; V Clerc, A Rougerie, W Fofana, J Malzieu; F Trinh-Duc, D Yachvili; V Debaty, W Servat, N Mas, P Pape, L Nallet, T Dusautoir (capt), J Bonnaire, L Picamoles.

Italy: A Masi; G Venditi, T Benvenuti, A Sgarbi, L McLean; K Burton, E Gori; A Lo Cicero, L Ghiraldini, M Castrogiovanni, C van Zyl, Q Geldenhuys, A Zanni, R Barbieri, S Parisse (capt).

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