Italy lack tools to deny France onslaught
Les Bleus boast power and pace to prevail
ITV & RTE2, 1.30pm Saturday
Italy were the talk of round three of the Six Nations as their widely discussed ruckless rugby tactic left England bamboozled and bogged down, but they may come unstuck against France in Rome.
Clearly it was important for the Azzurri to find a way to stem the tide after they shipped 96 points in their first two games, but whether they’ve done anything more than ride that one storm is open to question.
Their tactic of refusing to engage at the breakdown meant there was no offside line behind the attacking runners and they were free to encroach in that area to disrupt England’s play.
The criticism of Italy and coach Conor O’Shea for employing that ruse was little short of ridiculous, and talk of “exploiting a loophole” in the law is equally inaccurate. Italy simply used a tactic that has been seen on many occasions before, one that is entirely legal. The difference is that in the past teams have used it as a one-off move to catch out attacking teams but it is not something that can be effective as a regular strategy as the final result showed.
Italy disrupted England and led the game at half-time, but once England had worked out how to fight back the upshot was a convincing six tries to two victory and a five-point haul.
The surprise factor has clearly gone, and while the idea that O’Shea and his coaching team have another fiendish strategy up their sleeve can't be discounted, France undoubtedly have the tools to deal with the tactics Italy used at Twickenham.
One effective response is to pick and go straight through the middle, and Les Bleus clearly have the forwards to do that. Or teams can move the ball quickly through the hands to leave the opposition players seeking to disrupt behind the lines out of the game and struggling to get back into the defensive line, and France have shown the pace and offloading skills to do that too.
It’s pretty much unthinkable that Italy will simply do the same again anyway which means they’re back to square one with a defence that looked horribly exposed against the pace and power of Ireland and is set to face a similar onslaught from France.
Virimi Vakatwa returns on the wing for Les Bleus to bolster the attacking threat already provided by Noa Nakaitaci and Brice Dulin, while Louis Picamoles has led the forward threat with his rampaging runs, and this looks the perfect opportunity for France to show what they can do.
France to win by 11 to 20 points
1pt 11-4 Betfair, Paddy Power