Dulin and Villiere to start for France in Six Nations against Italy

·3-min read
La Rochelle full-back Brice Dulin will start for France against Italy in the opening 2021 Six Nations game in Rome

Brice Dulin and Gabin Villiere, who both impressed during the Autumn Nations Cup, were named by coach Fabien Galthie on Thursday in the starting line-up for France's Six Nations opener against Italy on Saturday.

Dulin, 30, made his Six Nations debut against England in 2014 but he had been out in the cold since 2017 until his call-up for the Autumn Nations Cup when, because of contractual obligations with the French clubs, Galthie was forced to dig beyond his regular pool of players.

The La Rochelle full-back took his chance, playing in the final which France lost narrowly to England, and retains his place ahead of Anthony Bouthier who wore the shirt in the last Six Nations.

Toulon wing Villiere also impressed in his two Autumn Nations Cups starts against Italy and England and keeps his place on the left wing ahead of Damian Penaud who is on the bench.

"He (Villiere) really showed up for the two matches he was chosen for," said Galthie.

"He has been performing for some time for his club. He demanded the jersey."

Racing 92's Teddy Thomas is on the right wing while Montpellier centre Arthur Vincent replaces Virimi Vakatawa who has a knee injury, one of a number of absentees for Galthie.

With Romain Ntamack still out with a double jaw fracture, Matthieu Jalibert retains his place at fly-half and will partner up with scrum-half Antoine Dupont.

- Jalibert 'ready' -

Jalibert, 22, lasted only half an hour of his Six Nations debut against Ireland in 2018 before being stretchered off but returned to the bench for the last edition before taking over from Ntamack in the Autumn Nations Cup.

"He is ready," said Galthie. "Like this team, he has gained experience, in club and the French team. He is getting stronger, he is finding his feet."

Flanker Francois Cros is also out with an injured right foot, allowing Dylan Cretin to start in the back row alongside captain Charles Ollivon and Gregory Alldritt, who missed training last week to have minor surgery.

Hooker Camille Chat, prop Demba Bamba and full-back Thomas Ramos have also been ruled out by injury.

France were runners-up in the 2020 edition with the same number of points as champions England, who they beat in Paris, but with a poorer points difference.

The inclusion of 30-year-old Toulon lock Romain Taofifenua on the bench not only lends some experience to a side that has an average age of but also an important voice to the locker room -- especially when the singing starts.

"He knows all the songs of Francis Cabrel, Francis Lalanne, Maxime Le Forestier, Joe Dassin," said Galthie.

"He is very into culture, especially when it comes to the songs. When the group sings, he is at the heart of it."

France team to play Italy (15-1)

Brice Dulin; Teddy Thomas, Arthur Vincent, Gael Fickou, Gabin Villiere; Matthieu Jalibert, Antoine Dupont; Gregory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon (capt), Dylan Cretin; Paul Willemse, Bernard Le Roux; Mohamed Haouas, Julien Marchand, Cyril Baille

Replacements: Pierre Bourgarit, Jean-Baptiste Gros, Dorian Aldeghiri, Romain Taofifenua, Anthony Jeronch, Baptiste Serin, Louis Carbonel, Damian Penaud

Coach: Fabien Galthie (FRA)