France will mourn the loss of former star winger Christophe Dominici amid cathedral-like composure before focusing on Italy’s challenge with emergency teams in the Autumn Nations Cup on Saturday.
Players will wear his nickname Domi on their left arm under a giant photo of him at the Stade de France, where several minutes of silence will be held.
“You’ve never met a man like him twice,” said former France captain Pascal Pape, who is close to Dominici. France coach Fabien Galthie has also lost an old friend and teammate.
Before kickoff, the team will pause to remember Dominici, who died on Tuesday aged 48.
Dominici’s death sent shock waves through rugby and reached the seats of the French parliament, where politicians in the National Assembly stood without being asked and praised him as a tribute.
Due to the coronavirus, there will be no crowds at the 81,000-seat stadium to say goodbye to Dominici.
Many of his friends in rugby belong to the current French hierarchy: Federation President Bernard Laporte – a former French coach who shares close ties with Dominici; Galthie and his assistant Raphael Ibanez – all teammates during a heyday that defined French talent in a brash style.
Galthie also played alongside Dominici at the Stade Francais, before training him there.
Dominici scored 25 trial tests in a glorious decade with the national team, highlighted by New Zealand’s sensational disappointment at the 1999 and 2007 Rugby World Cups.
“We have lost a friend. We are fighting, fighting to make it happen,” Laporte said Wednesday. “I tell them: I hope you have one thing, that you have the same career as him.”
On Saturday, Galthie must try their best to focus on a win with 13 changes following their 22-15 win in Scotland last weekend, including five new faces and a pack boasting nearly a dozen caps.
The change comes due to an agreement on player rotation between the French Rugby Federation and French league clubs, limiting players to only three out of six international players.
“The squad has limited experience, but that’s the deal. We know that and we will work on it,” said Galthie. “At the level at which we play, everyone has to be ready anytime or anywhere.”
Baptiste Serin’s scrum-half is one of three players with 20 caps or more, and he replaces Charles Ollivon as captain. “It was precisely because he was so committed that we gave him this role,” said Galthie. “He wants to lead this team.”
France are second in Group B behind Scotland – as Scotland have already been awarded a win for their canceled Test with Fiji – and need a win to qualify for the playoff final on December 6, where they will likely face England at Twickenham.
The Azzurri replaced three
Italy have called up winger Luca Sperandio for the first time in nearly two years as they have made three changes to their Autumn Cup of Nations side against France in Paris.
24-year-old Sperandio, who won his last six caps against France in Rome in March 2019, replaces Mattia Bellini.
Braam Steyn moved to No. 8 for the injured Jake Polledri with Maxime Mbanda and Johan Meyer coming onto the flanks. Mbanda started the game for Italy for the first time since last year’s World Cup after Sebastien Negri quit with an adductor injury.
Cristian Stoian, born in Moldova but a key player in Italy’s junior international, is one of two players not yet on the bench with flanker Michele Lamaro.
Italy last played two weeks ago in the Autumn Nations Cup, losing 28-17 at home to Scotland, but their second match against Fiji was canceled due to mass COVID-19 infection at the Pacific Island camp.
“We have an extra day to better prepare for this meeting,” said coach Franco Smith as he named the team.
“Last week’s cancellation increased our desire to take to the pitch on Saturday against France.
“It will be an intense match in which we will have the opportunity to see other interesting young people at work as we continue on our path to expanding our base and building DNA,” said Smith.
History will be made when Nigel Owens becomes the first referee to referee 100 tests. The 49-year-old Welshman made his first test 17 years ago, and has refereed four Rugby World Cups.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Teddy Thomas, 13 Jean-Pascal Barraque, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Gabin Villiere, 10 Matthieu Jalibert, 9 Baptiste Serin (c); 1 Rodrigue Neti, 2 Peato Mauvaka, 3 Dorian Aldegheri, 4 Killian Geraci, 5 Baptiste Pesenti, 6 Cameron Woki, 7 Sekou Macalou, 8 Anthony Jelonch.
Replacement: 16 Teddy Baubigny, 17 Hassane Kolingar, 18 Uini Atonio, 19 Cyril Cazeaux, 20 Swan Rebbadj, 21 Baptiste Couilloud, 22 Louis Carbonel, 23 Yoram Moefana.
Italy: 15 Matteo Minozzi, 14 Jacopo Trulla, 13 Marco Zanon, 12 Carlo Canna, 11 Luca Sperandio, 10 Paolo Garbisi, 9 Marcello Violi; 1 Danilo Fischetti, 2 Luca Bigi (c), 3 Giosue Zilocchi, 4 Marco Lazzaroni, 5 Niccolo Cannone, 6 Maxime Mbanda, 7 Johan Meyer, 8 Braam Steyn.
Replacement: 16 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 17 Simone Ferrari, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Cristian Stoian, 20 Michele Lamoro, 21 Stephen Varney, 22 Tomasso Allan, 23 Federico Mori.