PARIS, March 8 – Grand Slam-chasing France will not under-estimate a much-improved Italy at the Stade de France next weekend as the Six Nations resumes.French coach Marc Lievremont has won over many of the doubters after two years of using over 70 players, but having broken his jinx of not managing three successive wins with the 26-20 defeat of Wales, he is keen to take it on and claim what would be France’s first Grand Slam since 2004.
However, the 39-year-old former France flanker is wary of the threat that the Italians can pose, especially coming off a deserved victory over Scotland last time out.
"We are not taking anything for granted," said Lievremont. "We are extremely vigilant, we know that the match against Italy is a potential trap for us.
"We saw how hard they pushed the English (England only prevailing 17-12 in Rome). We remember also how two years ago we were snapped at all through the match at the Stade de France by the Italians.
"There will definitely be plenty of reminders about that for the squad in the week leading up to the match."
France’s real strength this campaign has been their scrum but they will perhaps have their greatest test against a fine Italian unit.
The backs too may also find it more difficult to cross the tryline than their previous three matches as Italy have conceded just one try in their last two matches.
While France go in search of the Grand Slam, their predecessors in that role Ireland still have hopes of the Triple Crown and host Wales with high hopes of rewarding captain Brian O’Driscoll with victory on his 100th appearance for his country.
However, coach Declan Kidney realises that whilst the table may show the Welsh with just one win from three matches it could just as easily have been three wins from three.
Alun-Wyn Jones’s sin-binning against England was a major blow while the Welsh have developed a habit of only coming alive in the second-half of their matches.
"It will be a huge Test against Wales who’ve shown extraordinary resilience in coming back in three successive Test matches," said Kidney. "They won’t be in a mood to give us points."
Wales’ former Ireland coach Warren Gatland is under no illusions about his team’s problems.
"If we can stop being our own worst enemies, our own victims, and we get it right, I think we are not far away from being a very, very good side," said the New Zealander.
One side that most people are agreed have not either been a joy to watch or played especially well are England.
Giving extra spice to the Calcutta Cup match against Scotland, is that the Scots are coached by former England boss Andy Robinson.