Why is France v Italy being played in Marseille?

Shifted: France vs Italy will be held in Marseille, not Paris (Getty Images) Rugby World

On Friday night, France will play Italy in Marseille for the first time in Six Nations history. Find out why here

Why is France v Italy being played in Marseille?

To kick off round three of the 2018 Six Nations, France are playing Italy on Friday night, but the game is not where you would expect.

Traditionally, France play their Five and Six Nations home matches in Paris. Their current home is the Stade de France, located in Saint-Denis to the north of the city, while the Parc de Princes, which is home to football team Paris Saint Germain, staged matches in the Eighties and Nineties and from the 1920s to the early 1970s their fixtures were held at Colombes.

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Related: Six Nations TV coverage

However this week the match will be taking place in Marseille, at the Stade Velodrome (or for sponsorship purposes, the Orange Velodrome!). This is the first time France have ever played a home Six Nations match outside of Paris. So what’s behind the stadium switch?

Firstly, the majority of the rugby fans in France are situated in the south of the country with teams like Toulon, Toulouse, and Montpellier having large followings. The only two Top 14 sides in the north of the country are Parisian clubs Stade Francais and Racing 92 – every other team is located in the bottom half of France.

Toulon regularly use the Velodrome for matches, the biggest of which was their Heineken Cup semi-final win over Munster in 2014.

By moving this fixture against Italy to Marseille they are giving those in the rugby hotbed of the south the chance to see live Six Nations action without travelling to Paris – or one of their away matches.

The Stade de France has been known to have a poor atmosphere on occasions so it will be interesting to see if the crowd is more vocal and intimidating in Marseille.

Second home: Toulon often play in Marseille for big games (Getty Images) Rugby World

Secondly, France has the ability to switch venues, with several massive football stadiums across the country. Countries like Ireland, Scotland, and Wales do not have the same choice of alternatives, plus their traditional venues – the Aviva Stadium, BT Murrayfield and Principality Stadium – are conveniently located, particularly given the fact those countries are smaller.

France and Italy have moved the odd autumn Internationals away from the Stade de France and Stadio Olimpico before, but the historic nature of the French federation taking a Six Nations fixture away from Paris is significant.

It may also lead to calls for England to move Tests away from Twickenham. Why not stage an International at Old Trafford or St James’ Park and give those rugby fans in the North of England the chance to see their heroes in action?

Importantly, if you are a French fan, the national side has a good record in Marseille too. They have played there 11 times since 2000 and only lost twice, once to Argentina in 2004 and the other to New Zealand in 2009.

Good Record: France have a strong record in Marseille, only losing twice in 11 matches (Getty Images) Rugby World

This is welcome news for Jacques Brunel and his side in terms of their Six Nations camapign because France desperately need a win, having lost to both Ireland and Scotland in close contests in the first two rounds. Their opponents, Italy, also need a victory after losing heavily to England and Ireland.

As for the fact this match is being played on a Friday night, that is down to the TV rights holders. Friday night sporting events traditionally attract big TV audiences but France are now the only country in the Six Nations to agree to stage fixtures then.

Wales have hosted Friday night games in the past but made a call last year to stop until more countries in the competition agreed to do the same.

Interestingly, next year’s Six Nations will kick off with a Friday night game between France and Wales on 1 February 2019 at the Stade de France.

Related: Six Nations Fixtures

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