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France, Italy set for winner-take-all matchup on Friday at Rugby World Cup

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YON, France (AP) — Maxime Lucu is at scrumhalf for the injured Antoine Dupont when France meets Italy in a winner-takes-all pool match on Friday for a place in the Rugby World Cup quarterfinals.

Dupont’s serious facial injury in the 96-0 rout against Namibia two weeks ago gives Lucu his 18th test cap. Gregory Alldritt comes back in at No. 8 in the only other change. Anthony Jelonch switches to flanker and takes the spot of Francois Cros, who is among the reserves in place of Paul Boudehent.

Lucu resumes his club pairing alongside Bordeaux Begles teammate Matthieu Jalibert.

“When you play or train with someone every day, you get to know them. We get on really well and spend a lot of time together,” Lucu said on Wednesday. “We play for the same club, so bonds are formed, a bit like Antoine and Romain (Ntamack) at Stade Toulousain (Toulouse). Starting alongside each other is a big deal for both of us.”

But it is a backup halves pairing for France, as Jalibert is a starter only because Ntamack sustained a knee injury in a Rugby World Cup warmup match.

“Max has never let us down; he’s always performed well. He plays a lot for the team in both attack and defence,” coach Fabien Galthie said. “He’s courageous, he’s effectively a ninth forward.”

Jelonch ruptured his ACL in February and Galthie feels he needs more playing time.

“He has played twice and needs a third game,” Galthie said. “But Francois Cros has never let us down, and is to be credited with some very good performances.”

Flanker Charles Ollivon will captain the team in Dupont’s absence, taking the armband for the 14th time in his career.

Boudehent drops out of the squad but the reserves remain otherwise unchanged with Baptiste Couilloud offering cover at scrumhalf, Yoram Moefana at center or winger, and Melvyn Jaminet at fullback.

Dupont rejoined the squad on Sunday, 10 days after surgery to repair a facial fracture sustained in an illegal head-on-head tackle against Namibia. Widely considered the world’s best player, Dupont is training lightly with major hurdles still to clear before he can possibly play again at the tournament.

Right winger Damian Penaud is on a six-game try-scoring streak and has 33 tries overall for France. Only Vincent Clerc (34) and Serge Blanco (38) have more.

Meanwhile, Italy has changed the front row and switched its best backs around after being blown away by New Zealand.

Props Simone Ferrari and Pietro Ceccarelli and hooker Epalahame Faiva will take on the French in Lyon, where Italy must win to stand a chance of reaching the quarterfinals.

Niccolo Cannone returns to lock alongside Federico Ruzza following the 96-17 hammering by the All Blacks. Ferrari wins his 50th test cap.

In the backs, Pierre Bruno starts on the right wing as the fifth team change after coming off the bench in the 52-8 win against Namibia.

Coach Kieran Crowley tinkered with his star backs again, with Tommaso Allan moving back to flyhalf after starting at fullback against New Zealand.

Paolo Garbisi is back at inside center from No. 10, while Ange Capuozzo returns to fullback after playing three of his past four tests on the right wing.

“We have decided for this particular game we wanted two playmakers at 10 and 12,” Crowley said. “The way the French play gives us an opportunity to put Capuozzo back at fullback and bring in Bruno at wing.

“Ange is an X-factor player. France have a long kicking game, so he will get some opportunities to build some attacks. The rest of the team will need to get around him because they have a kicking game where they kick, and then they leave four players upfield and they try to smother you.”

He expects a sharp response from his team after their capitulation against the All Blacks.

“Your confidence is knocked and how do you regain that? Well, by getting back to the process and having self-belief,” Crowley said. “And that’s easy to say. We will see how we’ve done on Friday night.”



France: Thomas Ramos, Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Louis Bielle-Biarrey, Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu; Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (captain), Anthony Jelonch, Thibaud Flament, Cameron Woki, Uini Atonio, Peato Mauvaka, Cyril Baille. Reserves: Pierre Bourgarit, Réda Wardi, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, Francois Cros, Baptiste Couilloud, Yoram Moefana, Melvyn Jaminet.

Italy: Ange Capuozzo, Pierre Bruno, Juan Ignacio Brex, Paolo Garbisi, Montanna Ioane, Tommaso Allan, Stephen Varney; Lorenzo Cannone, Michele Lamaro (captain), Sebastian Negri, Federico Ruzza, Niccolo Cannone, Pietro Ceccarelli, Hame Faiva, Simone Ferrari. Reserves: Marco Manfredi, Federico Zani, Marco Riccioni, David Sisi, Manuel Zuliani, Alessandro Fusco, Luca Morisi, Lorenzo Pani.