The northern hemisphere’s annual premier international rugby union competition returns after a much shorter absence than usual, with the 2020 tournament having to be concluded in October due to a seven-month delay caused by coronavirus.
Italy – who appointed former Springbok Franco Smith as their head coach on a permanent basis last summer – finished bottom of the pile once again last year after a Super Saturday defeat by champions England and remain without a Six Nations victory since 2015.
They lost out to Scotland and France at the subsequent Autumn Nations Cup, with their only win in Group B automatically awarded after Fiji’s struggles with Covid-19.
Meanwhile, France winded up missing out on a first Six Nations title since their 2010 Grand Slam last year, with the loss to Scotland at Murrayfield proving critical as they were eventually pipped by England on points difference.
Fabien Galthie‘s side gained revenge for that defeat by beating Scotland at the Autumn Nations Cup, where they went all the way to the final – where they lost to England – despite an agreement with Top 14 clubs meaning they were without several key players.
The French Rugby Federation (FFR) have now said that Galthie must use the same squad of 31 players throughout this Six Nations due to coronavirus restrictions.
Italy vs France date, time and venue
Italy vs France is scheduled for a 2:15pm GMT kick off on Saturday, February 6, 2021.
There will be no fans in attendance at the Stadio Olimpico due to Covid-19 protocols.
How to watch Italy vs France
TV channel: In the UK, the Six Nations opener will be shown live on ITV, with coverage beginning at 1:30pm.
Live stream: Fans can also watch the match via the ITV website or ITV Hub.
Italy vs France team news
There is an inexperienced and youthful feel to the Italy squad named for this Six Nations, with an average age of just 20.
Smith continues with the half-back pairing of Welsh-born Gloucester 9 Stephen Varney and Benetton’s Paolo Garbisi.
The Argentine-born Juan Ignacio Brex will make his debut at inside centre, while no8 Michele Lamaro is in for his first Italy start. Montanna Ioane earns only his second cap on the left wing.
In fact, in the starting XV, only captain Luca Bigi (42) and flanker Sebastian Negri have more than 11 senior caps to their name.
France are without injured trio Romain Ntamack, Virimi Vakatawa and Francois Cros, with Matthieu Jalibert staying in alongside star scrum-half Antoine Dupont, Arthur Vincent partnering Gael Fickou in the centres and Dylan Cretin lining up on the blindside.
Gregory Alldritt is fit to start in the back row after a knee issue.
Italy: Truller; Sperandio, Zanon, Ignacio Brex, Ioane; Garbisi, Varney; Traore, Bigi (c), Riccioni; Lazzaroni, Sisi; Negri, Meyer, Lamaro
Replacements: Lucchesi, Fischetti, Zilocchi, Cannone, Ruzza, Mbanda, Palazzani, Canna
France: Dulin; Thomas, Vincent, Fickou, Villiere; Jalibert, Dupont; Baille, Marchand, Haouas; Le Roux, Willemse; Cretin, Ollivon (c), Alldritt
Replacements: Bourgarit, Gros, Aldegheri, Taofifenua, Jelonch, Serin, Carbonel, Penaud
Italy vs France head to head (h2h) history and results
There have been 43 previous contests between these two nations, with France boasting 40 wins to Italy’s three.
After a rare initial win in 1997, Italy won two out of three meetings between 2011-13.
However, France have won all 10 matches since then, including a 35-22 triumph in last year’s Six Nations and a 36-5 thrashing in the Autumn Nations Cup.
Italy vs France prediction: Away win
Italy may play some vibrant, attacking rugby with a young squad under Smith, but it would be a surprise not to see their woeful winless Six Nations run continue for another year.
Resurgent France are vastly more experienced as they look to make up for their 2020 disappointment and should open the new campaign with a big win in Rome.
Italy vs France betting odds and tips