Noves hoping bold selection pays off in France bow


Guy Noves has stressed the importance of looking to the future as he prepares for his first game as France coach but a partisan crowd in Paris will be expecting an emphatic win over Italy in Saturday's Six Nations opener.

Philippe Saint-Andre's reign as Les Bleus coach ended with an embarrassing 62-13 hammering at the hands of New Zealand in the Rugby World Cup quarter-finals last October, and Noves will be expected to pick up the pieces.

Noves ended his 22-year spell as Toulouse coach to take over the national team and stamped his mark on the role by naming four debutants in the side to face Italy at Stade de France.

Virimi Vakatawa was a shock selection on the wing, while Sebastien Bezy comes in at scrum-half in a new-look side.

There are also starts for centre Jonathan Danty and lock Paul Jedrasiak, with hooker Guilhem Guirado taking over as captain following Thierry Dusautoir's retirement.

Noves turned 62 on Friday and the veteran coach hopes his bold team selection will allow him to celebrate with an impressive victory against an Italy side that head into the tournament with minimal expectations.

"It's important that all my players look towards the future," said Noves."We have some new players in the squad and these players for future are here to fit in and bring freshness."

It is six years since France won the Six Nations and they could only finish fourth last year after winning just two matches - one of which was a 29-0 defeat of Italy in Rome.

Noves also named three uncapped players on the bench to face an Italy side led by Frenchman Jacques Brunel.

While Noves is at the start of his France tenure, Brunel will end his five-year spell as Italy coach following the Six Nations.

Brunel is well aware of Noves' attributes, but the Azzurri coach is only interested in ensuring his side give a good account of themselves in what will be the first sporting event at Stade de France since the stadium was targeted in a series of terrorist attacks in the French capital last November.

"I have faced Noves for over 25 years, so we know each other well," Brunel said.

"The choice of Vakatawa to start on the wing is interesting - I've seen him play a few times in rugby sevens and he has athleticism out of the norm which can certainly be dangerous.

"But we have to focus on ourselves, go on the pitch with our usual ambition and our desire to impose our rugby on our opponents."

Brunel has also opted to ring the changes, with full-back David Odiete, wing Mattia Bellini, prop Andrea Lovotti and hooker Ornel Gega making their debuts.


Key Opta stats:

- France have won all nine games they have played against Italy in Paris, eight of which have come in the Six Nations.
- In those eight Six Nations games, France have managed an average winning margin of 20 points against the Azzurri and averaged 3.9 tries per game.
- France need 31 points to have notched up 3,000 at home in their Five/Six Nations history, however the last time they scored 31 in a home Six Nations match was against Scotland in 2011.
- Italy captain Sergio Parisse is just seven metres away from 2,500 gained in the Six Nations overall; he would become the second player after Brian O'Driscoll to reach this milestone.
- Italy's win at Murrayfield last year ended a run of 19 consecutive away defeats in the Six Nations, a run stretching back to 2007 when they picked up their only other away win in the tournament's history on the same ground.