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France has reason to fear Italy ahead of winner-take-all on TSN

Louis Bielle-Biarrey France Louis Bielle-Biarrey - The Canadian Press

Title contender France has plenty of reasons to be concerned about Italy in their crunch Rugby World Cup match on Friday in Lyon.

Both are chasing a quarterfinal spot. France is unbeaten and is looking to top Pool A. Italy has lots of motivation.

Watch France vs. Italy LIVE on TSN3 and TSN+ at 3pm et/Noon pt. 

Italy was caned by New Zealand 96-17 last week in Lyon but the Azzurri are usually thrashed by the All Blacks. Italy has no fear factor at all, though, when it comes to neighbor France.

Their derby is often feisty, and the All Blacks did France no favor by riling up Italy to save some face for the humiliation they suffered a week ago.

“We are looking forward to a chance this week to at least get a performance that has a lot more respectability,” Italy coach Kieran Crowley says.

This could be Crowley’s last game in charge of Italy. He was hired from Treviso in May 2021 after the disastrous 16-month reign of Franco Smith. Crowley transformed the team’s fortunes by improving their fitness, discipline and attack and selecting promising stars.

Notable wins against Wales and Australia and the second best winning percentage for an Italy coach in this century encouraged Crowley to want to continue in the role but he was surprisingly rejected by the Italian federation, who hired Gonzalo Quesada in June to replace him.

Italy has never made the quarterfinals in the tournament’s history. Ireland’s failure to pass the quarterfinals is matched by the Italians’ failure on the doorstep of the quarters. They are in contention in their last pool game for the seventh time in 10 tournaments.

They have been close. In 1987, they beat Fiji 18-15 in Dunedin but missed out on a countback of tries by one try. In 2007, they lost to Scotland 18-16 in Saint-Etienne. In 2019, their slim chance against New Zealand in Toyota was ruined when the game was canceled by a typhoon.

The game-time forecast on Friday is for cool, clear skies.

FRANCE vs. ITALY (France leads 44-3 overall, 1-0 in RWC)

The history going back 86 years makes the French overwhelming favorites.

They are coming into the contest on the back of a 96-0 rout of Namibia and with morale boosted by cautiously positive news regarding star scrumhalf Antoine Dupont’s injury recovery.

Their 94% success rate against the Azzurri is France’s best against any nation faced more than five times.

Italy’s last win was in 2013, two years after beating the French 22-21, both times in Rome. You then have to trawl back to 1997, when Diego Dominguez was at flyhalf, for Italy’s other win.

Italy frustrated France in their only previous Rugby World Cup contest in 2015, before the French ran out 32-10 winners at Twickenham. Ultra-reliable kicker Tomasso Allan played in that game and the flyhalf wins his 79th test cap on Friday.

Scrumhalf Stephen Varney takes heart from this year’s closely fought encounter at the Six Nations, where Les Tricolores edged it 29-24.

“We look back at that game and we believe we can do it again and give France a really good game,” Varney said. “We’ve gained respect and credibility from the rugby world.”

Varney’s opposite will be Maxime Lucu, who starts in place of the injured Dupont. Lucu warned his teammates against sloppy errors.

“We’ve regularly given away 15 penalties against Italy,” he said. “This is effectively a knockout match. Either you go on to a quarterfinal or you go home, so the tension is a bit higher.”

French fans will be hoping for another try-fest with right winger Damian Penaud in great form. Penaud is on a career-best, six-game try-scoring streak and has a world-leading 12 this year. His 33 tries overall trails on France’s all-time list only Vincent Clerc (34) and Serge Blanco (38).