Lievremont ready to battle for France

Thomas Lievremont believes he is the man who can provide the backbone that has so far been lacking in France’s RBS Six Nations Championship campaign when they host Italy at the Stade de France.

Lievremont, who replaces Julien Bonnaire at number eight, is one of three changes made to the side that almost threw away a 43-3 lead against Ireland a fortnight ago.

Les Bleus hung on to win 43-31 but left the Stade de France to the boos of many of their own supporters.

France had come into the Six Nations on the crest of a wave after winning all four November Test matches, including victories over southern hemisphere giants Australia and South Africa.

However, a 20-16 defeat in Edinburgh to Scotland followed by that alarming last half hour in Paris against the Irish has quickly exposed weaknesses just over a year before France aim to win the World Cup on home soil.

Lievremont, a 32-year-old who unlike 26-year-old Bonnaire is a specialist number eight, believes he can provide the stability the French need to get their bid for the Six Nations title back on track.

He said: “I think we need to put our hand on the ball, not waste it and play a more restricted game, keeping the ball.

“I hope I can do that if the situation requires that. But if I say that, it will appear pretentious.

“What I am speaking about is necessary for certain positions, including number eight. I have experienced the captaincy and managing situations like that is my daily role at (club side) Biarritz.

“But I am not saying ‘I am the old hand, gather around me and I will be like a father to you’. We need a number eight that gives rhythm.”

After two energetic but fatiguing Celtic reels, France’s Six Nations campaign will be dancing to a Latin beat with the arrival of Italy who have never won an away match since joining what was then the Five Nations in 2000.

The Azzurri are, however, showing signs of progress with the Latin-style game of their French coach Pierre Berbizier, who succeeded New Zealander John Kirwan last year.

France coach Bernard Laporte, whose expletive-laden outburst at the ‘bourgeois’ Stade de France crowd after the Ireland match was swiftly followed by an apology, has made two other changes.

Damien Traille replaces David Marty at centre while Cedric Heymans makes way for Thomas Castaignede, who will play at full-back with Christophe Dominici reverting to Heymans’ wing position.

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