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 tomorrow, 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.
WALES UNCHANGED FOR IRELAND
Wales is unchanged for its Six Nations Grand Glam tilt against Ireland in Cardiff.
The same matchday 23 which overcame Scotland 18-11 last weekend in Edinburgh was picked on Thursday to face the Irish.
Fullback Liam Williams was passed fit after leaving the Scotland game prematurely because of a stinger in his right shoulder.
Captain Alun Wyn Jones will equal countryman Gethin Jenkins’ test caps record of 134 (125 Wales, nine British and Irish Lions) to lie joint fifth on the all-time caps list.
Wales has won a national-record 13 straight tests. Its last loss was to Ireland in February 2018.
The match also marks the 50th and last in the championship for Warren Gatland as Wales coach. He is stepping down after the Rugby World Cup this year.
“These players are on a very good run, they are a hugely impressive group, and they deserve to be going into the final weekend with everything to play for,” Gatland said in a statement.
“It is a great reward for them for the hard work they have put in, and we are all looking forward to what is going to be a huge game.
“For a number of us as coaches, this is our last Six Nations game, and the fact that it is in Cardiff is extra special. There is bound to be a bit of emotion and that is something to embrace.” AP