Posolo Tuilagi handed first Six Nations start for France ahead of Italy clash

Gonzalo Quesada makes six changes to the Italian XV that was held scoreless in Dublin a fortnight ago

France named 19-year-old lock Posolo Tuilagi in their starting lineup for the first time and confirmed Charles Ollivon as captain for Sunday’s Six Nations clash against Italy.

Tuilagi, who weighs nearly 150 kg, came off the bench in France's opening two matches of this year's championship, but now partners Cameron Woki in the second-row from the kick-off at Villeneuve-d'Ascq.

He is one of two changes named on Friday by coach Fabien Galthie to the French side that edged Scotland in a controversial 20-16 win at Murrayfield almost two weeks ago.

Tuilagi is the latest international to emerge from a Samoan family with a rich rugby heritage. His father and four uncles played test rugby for the Pacific island, while another uncle Manu represented England and the British & Irish Lions.

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Ollivon takes over the leadership from Gregory Alldritt, who suffered a cut to his left thigh against the Scots and sits out.

Alldritt’s absence also means a reshuffle in the back row as Francois Cross moves to number eight and Paul Boudehent comes in on the side of the pack.

Born in Samoa, Tuilagi has been in France since he was three and is the son of Henry Tuilagi, who won 10 caps for Samoa between 2002 and 2009 and played for Perpignan for eight years.

Tuilagi was not selected in France's initial Six Nations squad, but a series of injuries and suspensions has seen him get his chance. He takes the place of Paul Gabrillagues.

Lock Romain Taofifenua returns from illness as a substitute.

Meanwhile Ross Vintcent will make a first start for Italy Sunday after head coach Gonzalo Quesada named his team on Friday.

The South African-born 21-year-old, who qualifies for Italy through his maternal grandfather, came off the bench to earn his first cap in the 36-0 defeat to Ireland earlier this month, and starts against France at number eight.

Quesada has made six changes from the side which lost in Dublin, and Riccardo Favretto will also make his first start, replacing flanker Alessandro Izekor. Favretto’s only previous cap came off the bench in 2021.

Martin Page-Relo gets his chance at scrumhalf, after Paolo Garbisi and Stephen Varney started the opening two games, and Varney is named among the replacements.

Tommaso Menoncello moves to wing with Federico Mori coming in at centre, prop Giosue Zilocchi replaces the injured Pietro Ceccarelli and hooker Giacomo Nicotera is in for Gianmarco Lucchesi who drops to the bench.

Matteo Canali could earn his first cap against France, with the lock named on the bench which also includes prop Simone Ferrari who missed the first two games through injury.

“Every game is a new opportunity to continue on the path of growth. We know how the last match went and it was useful to work on certain areas of the game,” Quesada said.

“We want to show the best version of ourselves. We have heart, character and determination. All these characteristics must be put on the field against a team that is tactically and physically strong.”

France: Thomas Ramos; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Jonathan Danty, Louis Bielle-Biarrey; Matthieu Jalibert, Maxime Lucu; Cyril Baille, Peato Mauvaka, Uini Atonio; Cameron Woki, Posolo Tuilagi; Paul Boudehent, Charles Ollivon (capt), Francois Cros.

Replacements: Julien Marchand, Sebastien Taofifenua, Dorian Aldegheri, Romain Taofifenua, Alexandre Roumat, Esteban Abadie, Nolann Le Garrec, Yoram Moefana.

Italy: Ange Capuozzo; Tommaso Menoncello, Ignacio Brex, Federico Mori, Monty Ioane; Paolo Garbisi, Martin Page-Relo; Danilo Fischetti, Giacomo Nicotera, Giosue Zilocchi, Niccolo Cannone, Federico Ruzza; Riccardo Favretto, Michele Lamaro (capt), Ross Vintcent.

Replacements: Gianmarco Lucchesi, Mirco Spagnolo, Simone Ferrari, Matteo Canali, Andrea Zambonin, Manuel Zuliani, Stephen Varney, Leonardo Marin.