Thierry Dusautoir needs to make his mark when the French kick off their World Cup campaign against Italy at Twickenham on Saturday, writes CRAIG LEWIS.
Dusautoir led the French to the final of the 2011 World Cup, and his outstanding performances throughout the tournament played a major part as he was deservedly named IRB Player of the Year for the first time. Although his star may have faded to some degree since then, the 33-year-old’s leadership and experience remains invaluable.
No one really knows what to expect from the French at this tournament, but almost to the man, every pundit has highlighted the danger of their unpredictability.
France tend to turn it on at the World Cup, and have featured in three finals – the same number as New Zealand – after reaching the knockout stage of every tournament.
The modern-day French side may not necessarily boast the same sort of flair that has enabled them to shock and awe both fans and opponents in games gone by, but as former All Blacks coach Graham Henry once quipped: ‘You can never trust the French.'
When Les Bleus perform, Dusautoir is generally the man at the forefront, with the dynamic flanker set to lead a physical and competitive pack of forwards against an Italian side that boasts its own strengths up front.
While the industrious Dusautoir holds the key for France as both captain and influential loose forward, Italy have by contrast lost the services of their talismanic skipper, Sergio Parisse, who is out with a leg injury.
France have underperformed in the Six Nations over the past few years, but there were signs of improvement during their build-up to the World Cup, with an impressive win over England as the standout performance.
Outgoing coach Philippe Saint-André has chopped and changed his halfback pairings throughout his tenure, but in scrumhalf Sébastien Tillous-Borde and flyhalf Fred Michalak the French have a dynamic duo that should be able to manage the game if a platform is laid up front.
DUSAUTOIR'S STATS THAT MATTER
76 – Test caps for France
75 – Test starts
30 – Test points scored
6 – Test tries scored
HEAD TO HEAD
Overall: France 33 Italy 3
France – 15 Scott Spedding, 14 Yoann Huget, 13 Mathieu Bastareaud, 12 Alexandre Dumoulin, 11 Noa Nakaitaci, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Sébastien Tillous-Borde, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Damien Chouly, 6 Thierry Dusautoir (c), 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado, 1 Eddy Ben Arous.
Subs: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Vincent Debaty, 18 Nicolas Mas, 19 Bernard le Roux, 20 Alexandre Flanquart, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Rémi Talès, 23 Gaël 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 Joshua Furno, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini (c), 1 Matias Aguero.
Subs: 16 Andrea Manici, 17 Michele Rizzo, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Valerio Bernabò, 20 Simone Favaro, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Carlo Canna, 23 Enrico Bacchin.
Referee: Craig Joubert (South Africa)
Assistant referees: John Lacey (Ireland), Stuart Berry (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Photo: Simon Watts/Photosport