Sat, Feb 03, 2007 - Page 18 News List

Bortolami talks up Italians' chances against the French

AFP , ROME

Skipper Marco Bortolami firmly believes Italy can upset holders France in their opening match of the Six Nations in Rome today.

The Italy captain insists the Azzurri are much stronger this year with their much-criticized backs finally beginning to match the quality of their powerful forwards.

"Our forward play has always been our main strength but our backs have improved a lot, and that has resulted in a better-balanced team," Bortolami said.

"I don't think the criticism of our backs has been particularly fair. It's just a question of experience," he said. "But they have matured with every game and that has made us into a more formidable unit."

"We don't feel inferior to any team in this championship, and if we can keep it tight and cut down the errors, I don't see why we can't beat France," he said.

Bortolami believes Pierre Berbizier has also played a big part in Italy's steady improvement.

"He has vast experience of playing top level rugby and we have benefitted greatly from that," Bortolami said of his coach who played 56 times for France at scrum-half.

"He is well respected, listens to what everybody has to say and has given us more belief in ourselves," Bortolami said.

Andrea Scanavacca was a surprise choice at fly-half for Italy, the 33-year-old having previously made just seven international appearances.

Argentina-born Ramiro Pez played there in all of Italy's five matches in last year's tournament but missed some crucial kicks, and Berbizier feels Scanavacca deserves his chance.

Full-back Roland De Marigny comes in for the injured David Bortolussi for the Italians.

France coach Bernard Laporte has selected the 28th different halfback partnership of his eight-year reign with fly-half David Skrela partnering Pierre Mignoni.

Skrela earns only his second cap because first choice Frederic Michalak is injured.

Mignoni, who has started just eight of his previous 17 Tests, gets the nod ahead over the more experienced Dmitri Yachvili.

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