- Italy: Winless Italy have conceded 132 points in their opening three games, and are rightly the bookmakers’ odds-on favourites to finish bottom of the table for the twelfth time in 17 years. They succumbed to a 33-7 defeat against Wales on the opening weekend, before a demoralising 63-10 reverse to Ireland. Their performance in the 36-15 loss to England was much-improved though, largely thanks to the ‘no ruck’ tactics they adopted at the breakdown.
- France: France’s solitary 22-16 Round Two victory over Scotland was sandwiched between defeats to England and Ireland. Guy Noves has built this side around formidable strength and power in his forward pack, though they’re still striving for game-to-game consistency and fluency.
Italy – 9/4 to score a try in both halves this weekend - beat France in 2011 and 2013 and if they are to do so again, they’ll need to improve their defensive line, overall discipline and on-field organisation. They’ve missed a tournament-high 85 tackles in 240 minutes of Test rugby, and despite off-field words of encouragement from their coaching team, they’re yet to really ignite this campaign and showcase Italian rugby’s undeniable qualities and strengths.
However, the Azzurri’s ‘no ruck’ tactics bamboozled England a fortnight ago, giving Conor O’Shea’s men a springboard to be competitive for forty minutes. With no men committing to the breakdown, no ruck was formed meaning there was no offside line because it was a ‘tackle only’. This allowed the Italian defence to flood forward, legally blocking the ball from being moved away from the tackle area. They operated the tactics to perfection, and it was the element of surprise that caught England out. Italy may not do the same against France, but if they can play with the same tenacity and togetherness they displayed at Twickenham, it may be worth betting on Italy to win by 6/10 points, 25/1.
Italy - 4/1 to be the first side to score 10 points on Saturday - go into the game without fly-half Tommaso Allan, so expect talented Carlo Canna to be reunited with Edoardo Gori at half-back. Maxime Mbanda may be recalled into the back-row for his defensive qualities, and the ever-impressive Exeter Chief Michele Campagnaro will be one to watch in the outside channel.
France – 15/2 to win by 31-35 points - won 23-21 in last season’s corresponding fixture, and they’re rightly favourites with the bookmakers to secure victory in Rome. Les Bleus may currently be in a disappointing joint 5th place, but there have been signs of progression under Noves’s stewardship.
Camille Lopez, joint top points scorer so far with 37, will be a key man for France from fly-half, looking to unleash his power runners and speedsters out wide. The visitors will surely target a four-try bonus point, and after what may be a close first hour, Les Bleus should simply have too much quality in the closing stages for an underwhelming Italian outfit. A win over Italy will set France up to face Wales on the final weekend to try and secure their third and final victory of the tournament.
- Sports.net’s Top Tip: Italy/France Half Time/Full Time – 8/1
*Please note that odds may fluctuate in the run up to the game.