Brunel praises Bastereaud as he changes backline for Italy clash

‘It seems like he has reached a new dimension since he was named captain at Toulon’

France coach Jacques Brunel reshuffled his backline as Les Bleus look to end an eight-game winless streak when they face Italy in the Six Nations on Friday (8pm Irish time).

Brunel kept faith in scrumhalf Maxime Machenaud and outhalf Lionel Beauxis after the 32-26 defeat by Scotland, but added fresh blood to the outside backs for the game in Marseille.

Winger Remy Grosso replaced the disappointing Virimi Vakatawa and Benjamin Fall came in for Teddy Thomas after France's only try scorer in the championship was left out of the squad after several players were sanctioned for going out late in Edinburgh 10 days ago.

Mathieu Bastareaud was named at centre in place of Remi Lamerat and Hugo Bonneval replaced Geoffrey Palis at fullback. Geoffrey Doumayrou retained his spot at centre alongside Bastareaud.


“I’m expecting from them to bring us safety, but also creativity in other moments, and enthusiasm always,” Brunel told a news conference when referring to the backline.

“Like I said, there are spots up for grabs. Some have the opportunity to show what they are capable of.”

Brunel has high expectations for Bastareaud, who is in the squad after his ban for making homophobic comments in a Champions Cup game expired.

“It seems like he has reached a new dimension since he was named captain at Toulon,” said Brunel, who will be facing the team he coached from 2011-16.

“He has a special profile and he’s got experience.”

The pack was unchanged apart from Paul Gabrillagues coming in for the injured Arthur Iturria in the secondrow.

France and Italy lost their first two matches in the tournament, the Azzurri conceding 102 points in defeats by England and Ireland.

Italy coach Conor O'Shea has restored veteran hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini to the frontrow while Maxime Mbanda will make his first start of this year's Six Nations against France .

Ghiraldini, who plays his club rugby in France, has been alternating with Luca Bigi as hooker for Italy and will earn his 92nd cap after being given the nod.

Mbanda takes over on the side of the scrum from Brahm Steyn, who has been dropped from the matchday 23 after Italy lost 56-19 to Ireland a fortnight ago. George Fabio Biagi moves to the bench as Mbanda starts.

Captain Sergio Parisse is the other player in the team who competes in the French league and O'Shea predicted an immense performance from his veteran number eight at the imposing Stade Velodrome on Friday.

“Sergio is always a consistent performer but this is the kind of game where he is likely to be the player to put his head above the parapet,” O’Shea told a news conference on Wednesday.

“We are expecting an incredible atmosphere in Marseille in a special stadium. It will be very different to the other matches in the Six Nations,” he added.

FRANCE (v Italy, Marseille, Friday, 8pm Irish time): Hugo Bonneval; Benjamin Fall, Mathieu Bastareaud, Geoffrey Doumayrou, Remy Grosso; Lionel Beauxis, Maxime Machenaud; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Rabah Slimani; Paul Gabrillagues, Sebastien Vahaamahina; Wenceslas Lauret, Yacouba Camara, Marco Tauleigne.

Replacements: Adrien Pelissie, Dany Priso, Cedate Gomes Sa, Romain Taofifenua, Kelian Galletier, Baptiste Couilloud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Gael Fickou.

ITALY: Matteo Minozzi; Tommaso Benvenuti, Tommaso Boni, Tomasso Castello, Mattia Bellini; Tomasso Allan, Marcello Violi; Andrea Lovotti, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Simone Ferrari; Alessandro Zanni, Dean Budd; Sebastian Negri, Maxime Mbanda, Sergio Parisse (capt).

Replacements: Luca Bigi, Nicola Quaglio, Tiziano Pasquali, George Fabio Biagi, Federico Ruzza, Edoardo Gori, Carlo Canna, Jayden Hayward.