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After beating England, France looks to bolster shaky confidence with win against Italy

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PARIS - On the payback trail in the Six Nations, France's fragile confidence is bolstered by the knowledge it has never lost a championship match to Italy at home.

Italy also appear to have recognized that for Sunday's game at Stade de France by dropping to the bench five players who featured in the closer-than-it-looks 23-15 loss to Wales in Cardiff last weekend.

Among those sent to the reserves were lock Marco Bortolami, who made his 100th appearance against Wales, and 81-cap flanker Alessandro Zanni. The promoted included forwards Alberto de Marchi, Joshua Furno and Francesco Minto, and winger Tommaso Iannone, none of whom has more than 14 caps.

And after a six-month injury absence, Gonzalo Garcia returns in the centres in place of Alberto Sgarbi for his 30th cap.

France still isn't underestimating Italy, not after losing on its last two visits to Rome.

"The Italy game will be tough. There aren't any easy games any more in this competition," France coach Philippe Saint-Andre said.

Following last year's wooden spoon embarrassment, France began its campaign to regain respect by beating England 26-24. However, France first blew a 13-point lead before winning on Gael Fickou's well-worked converted try three minutes from time.

Charged with making amends for last year's defeat in Rome, Saint-Andre is for a second straight game starting another new cap, Hugo Bonneval. He replaces the dropped Maxime Medard on the left wing, where his father Eric Bonneval helped France win three Five Nations in the mid-80s.

"His selection is logical given his recent performances with Stade Francais and what he's shown us in training," Saint-Andre said. "He has the pace, and the capacity to win one-on-ones. In a Heineken Cup game against London Irish he was outstanding."

The 23-year-old Bonneval usually plays at fullback for his club. He was called up to the Six Nations squad in 2012 but didn't play. Rugby runs in the family, since his half-brother, Arthur Bonneval, plays for Toulouse.

Italy reserve hooker Davide Giazzon says they're bracing for a stern test up front, especially after props Nicolas Mas and Thomas Domingo worked over England's front row.

"France will try to bring great pressure, especially in the scrum —they know that it is our strong point," Giazzon said. "They have two props of absolute class in Mas and Domingo, who are able to make a difference. But we are preparing to do the best job we can."

Unlike England, Saint-Andre made good use of his substitutes last weekend, with Dmitri Szarzewski making a brilliant run down the left flank to set up Fickou to cut inside and score.

"We're lucky enough to have two very good hookers. Dimitri did very well when he came on," Saint-Andre said.

"Against Italy our strategy in the forwards is based on power. (Yoann) Maestri's back in the team and (Sebastien) Vahaamahina can play lock or in the back row for the last 20 minutes."

Against Italy, Saint-Andre is expecting to make changes more quickly than against England.

"After the 35th minute we started to struggle in defence against England, Gael might come on earlier than last time," he said. "Because of Remi Tales' injury, Jules Plisson got his (debut) earlier than planned. We want to keep this (halves) partnership going, knowing that we have three backs on the bench because we saw that Jules had trouble lasting the full 80 minutes."

That could mean playing time for Francois Trinh-Duc, who has not played for France since the Six Nations match against Scotland last March. Medard scored a try in that game, but he was poor against the English.

"Medard hasn't been punished, he can do better and he knows it," Saint-Andre said.

___

Lineups:

France: Brice Dulin, Yoann Huget, Mathieu Bastareaud, Wesley Fofana, Hugo Bonneval, Jules Plisson, Jean-Marc Doussain; Louis Picamoles, Bernard Le Roux, Yannick Nyanga, Pascal Pape (captain), Yoann Maestri, Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Thomas Domingo. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Yannick Forestier, Rabah Slimani, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Damien Chouly, Maxime Machenaud, Francois Trinh-Duc, Gael Fickou.

Italy: Luke McLean, Tommaso Iannone, Michele Campagnaro, Gonzalo Garcia, Leonardo Sarto, Tommaso Allan, Edoardo Gori; Sergio Parisse (captain), Mauro Bergamasco, Francesco Minto, Joshua Furno, Quintin Geldenhuys, Martin Castrogiovani, Leonardo Ghiraldini, Alberto de Marchi. Reserves: Davide Giazzon, Michele Rizzo, Lorenzo Cittadini, Marco Bortolami, Alessandro Zanni, Tobias Botes, Luciano Orquera, Angelo Esposito.

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