Hosts France have yet to secure a quarterfinal place in the Rugby World Cup but will do so if they avoid defeat to Italy in Lyon on Friday, and flyhalf Matthieu Jalibert is not fooled by the 96-17 drubbing inflicted on their Six Nations rivals by New Zealand.
Jalibert has been the first-choice number 10 in the absence of the injured Romain Ntamack and came off the bench in the narrow 29-24 victory over the Italians in the Six Nations in February, where his try won the game for Fabien Galthie’s side.
“We have to watch out for Italy,” Jalibert told reporters on Monday. “If you look at the last results (between the two sides), they were always close games. Their display against New Zealand doesn’t reflect their real level.
“Over the last years, they have caused many problems to other big nations. We know their qualities and we’ll work on it as seriously as usual.
“They’re a solid team, they are good at holding the ball, which caused us many problems in the Six Nations, especially in terms of discipline.”
France will play for the first time since captain Antoine Dupont suffered a facial fracture against Namibia. Jalibert could be partnered with club mate Maxime Lucu as the half-back pairing, something he would welcome.
“If I’m to play with Max, it’s going to be easier because we play together all year long (at Bordeaux-Bègles),” he said. “If I had to single out one quality, it would be his leadership. And the way he handles the link between the forwards and the backs, his kicking game and his excellent defensive skills.
“He is very calm. Max is a hard worker, he’s down to earth so I don’t think that Antoine injury put him into doubt. He’s been in the squad for four years now, he’s familiar with the system. He’s ready to do the job as a scrum-half.”
Dupont looks set to play again in the tournament, possibly as early as the quarter-finals should France qualify, but Ntamack will not and that leaves Jalibert with a huge responsibility to take his side to a first World Cup title.
“I’ve started some games (in the recent past), so it was a natural process,” Jalibert said. “This gave me more responsibilities. This gave me more confidence and importance in the team to raise my voice.”