Chabal earns a reprieve in France's Six Nations clash against Italy

Coach Lievremont's keeps faith in the No8 despite his less than impressive outing against England.

Marc Lievremont, the France coach, has defended his decision to retain Sebastien Chabal in the starting line-up for the Six Nations clash with Italy on Saturday.

The No 8 was expected to be replaced by Imanol Harinordoquy after his poor performance in the 17-9 defeat to England last month.

However, Lievremont has kept faith with the Racing Metro player for the trip to Rome's Stadio Flaminio.

Lievremont told Sky Sports: "I want to give him playing time. I watched the [England] game again and his display didn't seem catastrophic to me. Imanol will start against Wales."

Julien Bonnaire returns as the open-side flanker in place of Harinordoquy, who drops to the bench.

In the only other changes, Maxime Medard replaces Clement Poitrenaud at full-back after recovering from a hamstring injury and Sylvain Marconnet replaces Thomas Domingo at prop.

Explaining his front row selection, Lievremont said: "Thomas played a lot of matches recently and I wanted to see Sylvain."

Lievremont has not altered the half-back combination of Dimitri Yachvili and Francois Trinh-Duc, with Morgan Parra, the scrum-half, set to make his second consecutive appearance from the bench.

France need England to lose one of their remaining two games if they are to have a chance of retaining the title.

England are the only team who are still unbeaten, and they host Scotland on Sunday. They have been boosted by the news that Tom Croft and Courtney Lawes have overcome knee injuries and could both feature at Twickenham.

Meanwhile, James Hook is to return to the fly-half position for Wales for Saturday's clash with Ireland at the Millennium Stadium, and Robin McBryde, the Welsh assistant manager, has challenged the player to stamp his authority on the game.

"James provides a running threat and we will be looking for him to show he can control the game as well and help us play in the right areas," he said.

Hook moves back to the position from centre after covering for Jonathan Davies, who missed last month's clash with Italy through injury, but will return against the Irish.

Ireland are unchanged for the game, with Ronan O'Gara keeping hold of the fly-half shirt at the expense of Jonathan Sexton following his man-of-the-match display in the 21-18 victory against Scotland in February.