Laporte shuffles pack for Welsh tie

FRANCE’S second-half revival to beat England on Sunday has not stopped coach Bernard Laporte making several changes.

Les Bleus’ hopes of retaining the RBS 6 Nations title received a boost when they defeated England 18-17 just eight days after completing a 16-9 home victory over Scotland.

But the manner of their victory at Twickenham, coming after one of the most tepid and unimaginative first-half performances by a France team in recent years, has led the ruthless France boss to ring the changes for the clash against the unbeaten Welsh at the Stade de France.

Sebastien Chabal, Brian Liebenberg and Pepito Elhorga were all dropped from Laporte’s squad after failing to impress at Twickenham.

Winger Jimmy Marlu is an enforced withdrawal after injuring his left knee against Andy Robinson’s men and will be replaced by Aurelien Rougerie.

Laporte insists the changes to the squad are essential if Les Bleus are to continue to improve during what he sees as a transitional period for his side.

“It breaks my heart to sideline players who defeated England at Twickenham but we are in a rebuilding process,” said Laporte.

“Since we are aiming at excellence, we must boost the squad. If we’ve made so many changes in the squad after winning at Twickenham, it’s because we are not satisfied with our performance.”

“We are perfectly aware that we could have lost and we have a lot of progress to make, especially on the offensive side.”

Chabal will be replaced by devastating number eight Imanol Harinordoquy, although Julien Bonnaire’s excellent display at the base of the scrum on Sunday could prompt Laporte to use the returning Biarritz star elsewhere in the back row.

Centre Liebenberg is replaced by Yannick Jauzion, who has shaken off his injury.

“Brian must give more to the team,” said team manager Jo Maso.

“His performance was too timid compared to what we are expecting from him.”

Full-back Elhorga was blamed for France’s lack of strength in their backline, giving an opportunity for Brive’s Julien Laharrague, a France A side regular, to shine.

Italy flanker Mauro Bergamasco is toundergo an operation on his fractured cheekbone today.

The Stade Francais forward sustained the injury during Saturday’s RBS 6 Nations clash with Wales at the Flaminio Stadium in Rome, which the Azzurri lost 38-8.

The injury has ruled Bergamasco out of the match against Scotland on February 26, with Italy coach John Kirwan drafting in Benetton Treviso forward Silvio Orlando as his replacement.

It remains to be seen how long Bergamasco will be sidelined for but it is doubtful that he will be able to return in time for Italy’s final two Six Nations matches against England and France.

Bergamasco’s injury is a blow for Italy as they look to bounce back from home defeats to Ireland and Wales when they travel to Murrayfield later this month.

There is also a question mark surrounding the availability of forward Sergio Parisse.

The number eight will have to go before the disciplinary commission today following his tackle on Wales fly-half Stephen Jones during Saturday’s match. The Treviso star has been provisionally included in the squad for the Scotland encounter.

However, there could be better news for Kirwan regarding full-back Roland De Marigny.

The Parma player limped off against Wales with knocks to his ankle and knee but he has been included in Kirwan’s 25-man squad for the Scotland game, along with Montpellier centre Cristian Stoica, who returns after being left out of the first two matches of the tournament.

ITALY squad v Scotland at Murrayfield, February 26: M Barbini (Padova), Mirco Bergamasco (Stade Francais), M Bortolami (Narbonne), Martin Leandro Castrogiovanni (Calvisano), D Dal Maso (Treviso), R De Marigny (Parma), C Del Fava (Parma), S Dellape (Agen), P Griffen (Calvisano), G Intoppa (Calvisano), A Lo Cicero (L’Aquila), A Masi (Viadana), L Nitoglia (Calvisano), F Ongaro (Treviso), S Orlando (Treviso), L Orquera (Padova), S Parisse (Treviso), R Pedrazzi (Viadana), A Persico (Agen), S Perugini (Calvisano), W Pozzebon (Treviso), P Robertson (Viadana), M Savi (Viadana), C Stoica (Montpellier), A Troncon (Treviso).

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