LONDON (Reuters) - France could regain their flair and put Italy to the sword in their Rugby World Cup Pool D opener at Twickenham if coach Philippe Saint-Andre’s efforts to relieve the pressure work.
Saint-Andre, whose side are looking to reach a second successive final and fourth overall, said the players needed to be relaxed but concentrated.
“It’s only a rugby match even if it’s our first of a World Cup. We mustn’t put too much in their heads, they mustn’t be too pressured,” he told reporters at Twickenham when he named his team on Thursday.
“I have been waiting for this (moment) for four years and we must get there with a smile on our faces,” he said.
Lock Pascal Pape and flanker Thierry Dusautoir feel the same, being the only men in Saturday’s team to have played in the 8-7 loss to New Zealand in the 2011 final.
Prop Nicolas Mas and scrumhalf Morgan Parra, who also started that final, will be on the bench.
Player discipline and cheating was discussed by coaches at a meeting with referees on Wednesday and former winger Saint-Andre said: “The big picture is that we’re rugby not football and we have to respect our sport.
“As they say, it’s a sport for hooligans played by gentlemen.”
The French have struggled in recent Six Nations championships but Saint-Andre believes they are in fine shape after a good three months preparation.
“We will be much better than in the Six Nations. We have been together since July 6. We’ve show it already in the warm-up games,” he said after their two successive wins.
“The team is ready, much, much fitter and we are looking forward to the game against Italy.”
A major setback for the Italians is the loss of talismanic captain Sergio Parisse for this match at least with hooker Leonardo Ghiraldini leading the side.
“Sergio brings us a lot of energy and leadership and everyone now has to take on that responsibility for the match,” said Italy’s veteran utility back Andrea Masi.
“It is fundamental to be prepared to face up to France physically and stay close on the scoreboard around the last 20 minutes because that will cause the French to doubt, but we have to play to our very best.”
France: 15-Scott Spedding, 14-Yoann Huget, 13-Mathieu Bastareaud, 12-Alexandre Dumoulin, 11-Noa Nakaitaci, 10-Frederic Michalak, 9-Sebastien Tillous-Borde; 8-Louis Picamoles, 7-Damien Chouly, 6-Thierry Dusautoir (captain), 5-Yoann Maestri, 4-Pascal Pape, 3-Rabah Slimani, 2-Guilhem Guirado, 1-Eddy Ben Arous
Replacements: 16-Benjamin Kayser, 17-Vincent Debaty, 18-Nicolas Mas, 19-Bernard Le Roux, 20-Alexandre Flanquart, 21-Morgan Parra, 22-Remi Tales, 23-Gael Fickou
Italy: 15-Luke McLean, 14-Leonardo Sarto, 13-Michele Campagnaro, 12-Andrea Masi, 11-Giovanbattista Venditti, 10-Tommaso Allan, 9-Edoardo Gori; 8-Samuela Vunisa, 7-Francesco Minto, 6-Alessandro Zanni, 5-Josh Furno, 4-Quintin Geldenhuys, 3-Martin Castrogiovanni, 2-Leonardo Ghiraldini (captain), 1-Matias Aguero
Replacements: 16-Andrea Manici, 17-Michele Rizzo, 18-Lorenzo Cittadini, 19-Valerio Bernabo, 20-Simone Favaro, 21-Guglielmo Palazzani, 22-Carlo Canna, 23-Enrico Bacchin
Editing by Ken Ferris