ROME (AP) — The shockwaves from Italy's first win over France in the Six Nations two years ago will reverberate around a sold-out Stadio Olimpico on Sunday.
France hasn't forgotten the 22-21 loss in Rome, after leading 18-6, and seeks revenge. Italy draws confidence from the victory, knowing that because it did it once, it can do it again. A repeat on Sunday, though, will be much harder to achieve, acknowledges Italy's talismanic prop Martin Castrogiovanni.
"France has changed from then, and above all they won't undervalue us, a mistake they paid very dearly for last time," he said. Under ambitious French coach Jacques Brunel, Italy has continued to improve and came close to a stunning victory against England in the tournament last year.
"If we win I promise I'll sing Rino Gaetano's 'Il cielo e sempre piu blu,' ('The sky is always bluer') which made us really happy to hear last year after the victory against Scotland," Castrogiovanni added. "It will be good to see the Olimpico full again, it's emotional.
"Finally the moment's here. Preparation for this game has lasted longer than usual but we can't wait to get out on the pitch." Italy performed admirably in the November tests, where it was a hair's breadth away from an historic draw against Australia. It also stayed in contact with New Zealand for an hour before eventually succumbing 42-10.
However, France is favorite to win the Six Nations. Philippe Saint-Andre's team has won its last four tests, including victories home and away over Argentina and Australia, and has a squad bulging with battle-hardened players from the strongest domestic league in Europe.
"Drawing on a football comparison, we're Albania and they are Italy," Castrogiovanni said. "But this doesn't mean we're going to start already beaten. We are really up for it, Italy has taken great steps forwards in the last few years.
"France is coming off the back of a great November. But we've improved too: We know how to defend well but now we also play in attack, we can also damage them. We will have to be good in taking advantage of all our opportunities up front."
The defeat in Italy is fresh in Thierry Dusautoir's memory and the veteran France flanker is keen to avoid a repeat. "It was awful," he said. "But it was different then. We were going through a difficult time, we'd just come from a November where we'd lost heavily against Australia.
"But that defeat in Italy came most of all from a lack of effort. We thought we were way above Italy and we paid the price. The night was long and the days that followed were really heavy. That match and the one against Australia marked us."
Dusautoir, following a lengthy layoff with a knee injury, will play for France for the first time since last year's Six Nations. This will be the first Six Nations in several years in which Italy will start without the Bergamasco brothers: Mirco is injured, while older brother Mauro has been dropped.
Italy: Andrea Masi, Giovanbattista Venditti, Tommaso Benvenuti, Alberto Sgarbi, Luke McLean, Luciano Orquera, Tobias Botes, Sergio Parisse (captain), Simone Favaro, Alessandro Zanni, Francesco Minto, Quintin Geldenhuys, Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Andrea Lo Cicero. Reserves: Davide Giazzon, Alberto De Marchi, Lorenzo Cittadini, Antonio Pavanello, Paul Derbyshire, Edoardo Gori, Kristopher Burton, Gonzalo Canale.
France: Yoann Huget, Wesley Fofana, Maxime Mermoz, Florian Fritz, Benjamin Fall, Frederic Michalak, Maxime Machenaud; Louis Picamoles, Thierry Dusautoir, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape (captain), Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Yannick Forestier. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Vincent Debaty, Luc Ducalcon, Romain Taofifenua, Damien Chouly, Morgan Parra, Francois Trinh-Duc, Mathieu Bastareaud.