Looking ahead to Week 3 at the World Cup (Part 1)
It’s an early start for the World Cup this week, with fixtures every day from Wednesday through until Sunday. That means an early start for us here too, with our preview articles being staggered through the week as the team announcements come through. As with last week, Part 1 of Round Three’s previews will focus on two games from Pool A – Italy v Uruguay, and France v Namibia.
Italy v Uruguay, Wednesday 20th September, 4.45pm
Given that there seems to be a yearly debate about whether Italy should be replaced in the Six Nations, it seems surreal to think they could possibly be sat top of a pool containing France and New Zealand by Wednesday evening. The focus though will be for Italy to ensure victory here before their two hardest fixtures and try to consolidate third place which would guarantee automatic qualification for the 2027 World Cup. That gives them four more years to build on a talented, and well-balanced, squad.
Italy had a rest week in Round Two, but were impressive against Namibia on the opening weekend, and they know they cannot afford to take Uruguay lightly as France did last week. Head coach Kieran Crowley has made just four changes – the sole like-for-like change in the backs is Alessandro Garbisi in for Stephen Varney. It’s worth noting however that the 10-12-15 axis has rotated from the Namibia clash.
Tommaso Allan is back in his favoured role at fly-half, with Ange Capuozzo sliding from the wing to full-back. This means that Garbisi’s big brother Paolo switches from fly-half to inside centre – a position he is less familiar with, having never played there for Italy, but has played there with some regularity for Montpellier in the Top 14. Amongst the shuffling, Luca Morisi makes way for Lorenzo Pani, who will play on the wing in his World Cup debut. It’s perhaps a shock that Pani starts ahead of Paolo Odogwu who made a promising cameo last time out from the bench. In the front row, it’s Marco Riccioni in at tighthead for Simone Ferrari, while at lock Niccolo Cannone will replace the less-experienced Dino Lamb. Sebastian Negri will win his 50th cap in a dominant back row alongside Lorenzo Cannone and captain Michele Lamaro.
Uruguay is a nation that is rapidly improving. In 2019, they had just 22 professional players and somehow pulled off a remarkable victory over a talented Fiji side. Every player in this year’s 33-man squad is professional or semi-professional at the least – 24 of them play for the same club side (Penarol – winners of the Super Rugby Americas league) which allows for a cohesion you maybe don’t see in bigger nations drawing on a wider variety of sources for their players.
The step towards professionalism was evident last week against the heavily rotated hosts when every player put their body on the line in a bruising encounter. It’ll take some doing to repeat that level of performance week in, week out against the Tier 1 nations but they’ll hope at least to give a good account of themselves against Italy. There are just two changes for Los Teros – the experienced Gaston Mieres comes onto the wing for a first start in his third World Cup, while German Kessler is in at hooker.
They may have lost when these sides last met in November 2021, but that was only a seven-point defeat, and Uruguay have come a long way since then. If they can sneak a win over the Azzurri, it will bode well in the hunt for third place, with Namibia still to come.
Italy: 1. Danilo Fischetti, 2. Giacomo Nicotera, 3. Marco Riccioni, 4. Niccolo Cannone, 5. Federico Ruzza, 6. Sebastian Negri, 7. Michele Lamaro ©, 8. Lorenzo Cannone, 9. Alessandro Garbisi, 10. Tommaso Allan, 11. Monty Ioane, 12. Paolo Garbisi, 13. Ignacio Brex, 14. Lorenzo Pani, 15. Ange Capuozzo.
Replacements: 16. Luca Bigi, 17. Federico Zani, 18. Pietro Ceccarelli, 19. Dino Lamb, 20. Manuel Zuliani, 21. Giovanni Pettinelli, 22. Alessandro Fusco, 23. Paolo Odogwu
Uruguay: 1. Mateo Sanguinetti, 2. German Kessler, 3. Ignacio Peculo, 4. Felipe Aliaga, 5. Manuel Leindekar, 6. Manuel Ardao, 7. Santiago Civetta, 8. Manuel Diana, 9. Santiago Arata, 10. Felipe Etcheverry, 11. Nicolas Freitas, 12. Andres Vilaseca ©, 13. Tomas Inciarte, 14. Gaston Mieres, 15. Baltazar Amaya.
Replacements: 16. Guillermo Pujadas, 17. Facundo Gattas, 18. Diego Arbelo, 19. Ignacio Dotti, 20. Carlos Deus, 21. Agustin Ormaechea, 22. Felipe Berchesi, 23. Bautista Basso
France v Namibia, Thursday 21st September, 8pm
After heavily rotating against Uruguay and nearly coming up short, French head coach Fabien Galthie has switched back mostly to the side which beat New Zealand comfortably in the opening game. Anthony Jelonch retains his place but surrenders the captaincy to the returning Antoine Dupont. Louis Bielle-Biarrey switches wings after an impressive showing against the South Americans, while Cameron Woki becomes the only France player to have started all three games so far.
Jonathan Danty is finally back from injury to make his World Cup debut after the will he, won’t he rumour before each of the previous two matches. He scored a try last time out against Australia and will hope to be on the scoresheet again in what could be a cricket score. Another player who is expected to be amongst the tries will be Damian Penaud who is currently on a five-game try-scoring streak. He’s already crossed the whitewash nine times in 2023 – one more will make him the first Frenchman to score ten in a calendar year since Philippe Saint-Andre in 1995.
The return of Dupont at scrum-half and Thomas Ramos at full-back bring more bad tidings for Namibia. Dupont has only lost one match from eighteen as captain and is yet to lose a match on home soil when leading his nation. Meanwhile, Ramos is averaging 17 points a match in 2023, and hasn’t missed more than two kicks at goal in a test match this season. You’d back both of those stats to continue here.
After being thoroughly beaten by Italy and New Zealand, Namibia will surely fare no better here. The Welwitschias lost Le Roux Malan to a horrific injury against the All Blacks – he has been replaced in the 33-man squad by centre Lloyd Jacobs. He doesn’t make the matchday squad though, with the centre partnership of Danco Burger and Johan Deysel hoping to make an impact on the French defensive line.
There are nine changes in total from Allister Coetzee, as he aims to give game time to more of his squad ahead of their final match against Uruguay which will most likely decide who finishes bottom of Pool A. Desiderius Sethie and Louis van der Westhuizen come into the front row, with Mahepisa Tjeriko and the French-based Adriaan Ludick forming a new second row partnership. It’s another new partnership at half-back where Cliven Loubser moves from full-back to fly-half with Jacques Theron getting his first start for Namibia against the skill of Antoine Dupont. Andre van den Berg is in at full-back.
France: 1. Cyril Baille, 2. Peato Mauvaka, 3. Uini Atonio, 4. Cameron Woki, 5. Thibaud Flament, 6. Francois Cros, 7. Charles Ollivon, 8. Anthony Jelonch, 9. Antoine Dupont ©, 10. Matthieu Jalibert, 11. Louis Bielle-Biarrey, 12. Jonathan Danty, 13. Gael Fickou, 14. Damian Penaud, 15. Thomas Ramos. Replacements: 16. Pierre Bourgarit, 17. Reda Wardi, 18. Dorian Aldegheri, 19. Romain Taofifenua, 20. Paul Boudehent, 21. Baptiste Couilloud, 22. Yoram Moefana, 23. Melvyn Jaminet
Namibia: 1. Desiderius Sethie, 2. Louis van der Westhuizen, 3. Aranos Coetzee, 4. Mahepisa Tjeriko, 5. Adriaan Ludick, 6. Max Katjijeko, 7. Johan Retief, 8. Prince Gaoseb, 9. Jacques Theron, 10. Cliven Loubser, 11. JC Greyling, 12. Danco Burger, 13. Johan Deysel, 14. Gerswin Mouton, 15. Andre van den Berg. Replacements: 16. Obert Nortje, 17. Jason Benade, 18. Haitembu Shikufa, 19. Pieter-Jan van Lil, 20. Richard Hardwick, 21. Oela Blaauw, 22. Alcino Izaacs, 23. Divan Rossouw