France see big chance in Parisse ab­sence

Loss of leader adds to Italy camp un­rest Saint-An­dré: We are here with a smile

The Daily Telegraph - Rugby World Cup - - Sport Rugby World Cup 2015 - By Steve James

No Ser­gio Parisse, no chance. You can dress it up how­ever you want, but that has to be the con­clu­sion to the news that the Ital­ian cap­tain and No 8 will miss his side’s World Cup opener against France at Twick­en­ham tonight.

Few, if any, in­ter­na­tional teams have one player so ev­i­dently oc­cu­py­ing a drawer so far above his col­leagues. To lose him is dev­as­tat­ing.

He was there when Italy beat France in Rome in the Six Na­tions in both 2011 and 2013 (they have beaten France on only one other oc­ca­sion – in Greno­ble in 1997 – in 33 Tests) but he will not be there as Italy be­gin the ar­du­ous task of re­pair­ing a poor World Cup record.

They have never pro­gressed to the knock­out stages and the roll call of the van­quished in their nine vic­to­ries from 24 matches is hardly mag­nif­i­cent. Beat­ing Ar­gentina in 1995 was mem­o­rable, but wins against Fiji, USA (twice), Tonga, Canada, Ro­ma­nia, Por­tu­gal and Rus­sia are noth­ing to shout about.

What is more there ap­pears to be a lit­tle trou­ble in the camp, if the ob­ser­va­tions of Mirco Berga­m­asco – now out of the squad, ad­mit­tedly – are any­thing to go by.

Ap­par­ently Jac­ques Brunel, the coach, is to blame. “The coach doesn’t have re­la­tions with the play­ers, he doesn’t speak and he doesn’t com­mu­ni­cate with them,” Berga­m­asco said. “He has failed to cre­ate a group, both on and off the pitch.”

Italy’s great­est hope is that France are in a sim­i­lar state un­der Philippe Saint-An­dré. It cer­tainly looked that way in the Six Na­tions and has done for most of his ten­ure, dur­ing which France have lost 21 of 40 Tests.

That said, how­ever, they looked very good in their two warm-up Tests against Eng­land this sum­mer. They were not so good against Scot­land, but over­all there was enough ev­i­dence to sug­gest that their set-piece is go­ing to be strong and that they are ex­tremely fit since they have been torn away from the masochis­tic rigours of the Top 14.

“We will be much bet­ter than in the Six Na­tions,” said Saint-An­dré, whose only sig­nif­i­cant ab­sen­tee tonight is the in­jured cen­tre Wes­ley Fo­fana.

“We have been to­gether since July 6. We’ve shown it al­ready in the warm-up games. The team is ready, much, much fit­ter. We are ready to en­ter the com­pe­ti­tion. The guys have been liv­ing like in a club and we are look­ing for­ward to this game against Italy. I have been wait­ing for this for four years and we must ar­rive with a smile on our faces.”

Saint-An­dré is aim­ing high in the tour­na­ment as a whole, say­ing: “We have been in three fi­nals and we have never brought one [tro­phy] home. We should take each match one at a time and ap­proach the tour­na­ment with hu­mil­ity.

“But the goal is to play a great World Cup. [It means] com­ing back home in Novem­ber. [It means fin­ish­ing] first or sec­ond. We’re not favourites but we have what it takes to beat any team in any one game.”

These two teams have never met be­fore in the World Cup, and the hope is that this match is bet­ter en­ter­tain­ment than their latest en­counter, on a wet Sun­day in March. France won 29-0, but it was a dread­ful spec­ta­cle, lit­tered with mis­takes, turnovers and penal­ties.

Italy’s strength has long been their pack, and so it is lit­tle sur­prise that they field the most ex­pe­ri­enced front row in World Cup history. Matías Agüero (36), Leonardo Ghi­ral­dini (78), who cap­tains in Parisse’s ab­sence, and Martin Castrogiovanni (113) have 227 caps, 12 more than the pre­vi­ous best of 215, when South Africa beat Namibia in 2011.

“We will have to be ag­gres- sive from the start and build pres­sure from the off,” flanker Alessan­dro Zanni said. “How we start will be vi­tal, es­pe­cially our phys­i­cal­ity.”

That is true, but phys­i­cal­ity has never been Italy’s prob­lem. Class has. And you sus­pect that France, even if they are plac­ing a lot of faith in the un­pre­dictable Frédéric Micha­lak at fly-half, will have too much of it.

Long run: Philippe Saint-An­dré is set­ting his sights on the fi­nal

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