Argentina and France target final flourish
June 24, 2010
CanMarc Lievremont's Grand Slam-winning side end their season on a high note? © Getty Images
France will look to end their Grand Slam season on a winning note when they tackle Argentina in Buenos Aires on Saturday.
Marc Lievremont's side powered to the northern hemisphere crown earlier this year but were brought crashing back down to earth by a rampant South Africa two weeks ago. The Springboks handed out a rugby lesson on their way to a 42-17 victory in Cape Town and left France with a stinging reminder of where the power lies in world rugby.
A gruelling season had evidently taken its toll on a team that had travelled in hope but were found wanting against the Tri-Nations champions, whose power and pace was too much to handle. France may have since returned to winning ways in their warm-up clash against an Argentina XV last week but Lievremont's focus already appears to be on the epic season ahead that kicks off in September and will culminate with the Rugby World Cup a year later.
Argentina are also reeling after an unprecedented series loss to a resurgent Scotland. Back-to-back defeats highlighted the Pumas' alarming indiscipline while increasing concerns over some of their ageing front row forwards overshadowed what creative flair a fit-again Felipe Contepomi and his cohorts produced. A return to the Stade Velez Sarsfield, where Argentina have beaten France on their last two visits, and their impressive record of six victories in their last eight meetings offer the Pumas further hope of a turnaround in fortunes but they will still require a performance of strength to overhaul a French side equally blessed with muscle and game-breaking talent.
With one eye on the bigger challenges ahead, Lievremont has opted to rest many of his frontline stars with fullback Clement Poitrenaud, centre David Marty, winger Aurelien Rougerie, lock Romain Millo-Chluski and prop Thomas Domingo all making way while flanker Wenceslas Lauret misses the game due to a shoulder injury. Marty's fellow Perpignan midfielder, Maxime Mermoz, was a late call-up to the bench due to David Skrela's illness.
But they have some able replacements with Florian Fritz and Lionel Mazars retained in the centre having impressed last time out. Elsewhere, Jerome Porical has been handed his Test debut at fullback following an outstanding season in the colours of Perpignan while Julien Malzieu comes in on the wing. Prop Fabien Barcella returns to the international stage having missed this year's Six Nations through injury while Pascal Pape packs down alongside Lionel Nallet in the second row. Thierry Dusautoir will skipper the side once again - joining Louis Picamoles and Julien Bonnaire in the back-row.
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan has opted against wholesale changes for the game with just three switches in his line-up. Flanker Alejandro Campos is preferred to Juan Manuel Leguizamon, who pays for his personal indiscipline and lack of form with a place on the bench. Elsewhere, scrum-half Nicolas Vergallo and winger Rafael Carballo breathe new life into the Pumas' backline at the expense of Agustin Figuerola and Horacio Agulla respectively. The Pumas began their series with Scotland well with two tries in an impressive opening burst but have failed to recapture that form since. And a return of just three tries in their last five matches and just two wins in the last year hint at major concerns for Phelan who would appear to lack strength in depth within his squad. They will pose their usual physical threat but will find a French pack more than willing to trade blow for blow.
The Pumas may not be in the depths of despair just yet but another home loss would certainly confirm that they are heading in the wrong direction. For France the question marks over their consistency are all too familiar. Les Bleus have experienced huge highs this season with victory over South Africa at home and the Six Nations clean sweep but they have also weathered significant failures against the All Blacks and most recently the Springboks.
Toulon star Contepomi, who captained the Pumas in the two Tests against Andy Robinson's men and will do so again this weekend at Estadio Jose Amalfitani, commented, "We are disappointed. We've trained a lot and it is very hard when you don't clinch the results you expect. This time it is double or nothing for us. This is a must-win. We have to trust in what we do and try to improve on our mistakes each time we play."
France coach Marc Lievremont said, "The annoying thing is not the defeat (to South Africa) but how it happened. We did not defend the way we know we can . That is not acceptable at all. Maybe the players were a little bit tired as we are at the end of a long season."
Neither side is likely to relish this clash at the end of a long and hard campaign but the opportunity to end the season on a positive note may yet inspire a final flourish - and the competition within the French ranks hints that they may have the edge over a Pumas side playing for pride.
Argentina: Martín Rodríguez, Lucas González Amorosino, Gonzalo Tiesi, Santiago Fernández, Rafael Carballom, Felipe Contepomi, Nicolás Vergallo, Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma, Martín Scelzo, Manuel Carizza, Patricio Albacete, Genaro Fessia, Alejandro Campos, Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe
Replacements: Agustín Creevy, Marcos Ayerza, Juan Figallo, Mariano Galarza, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Agustín Figuerola, Horacio Agulla
France: Jerome Porical, Vincent Clerc, Lionel Mazars, Florian Fritz, Julien Malzieu, Francois Trinh-Duc, Morgan Parra, Fabien Barcella, Dimitri Szarzewski, Nicolas Mas, Pascal Papé, Lionel Nallet, Thierry Dusautoir (captain), Louis Picamoles, Julien Bonnaire
Replacements: Guilhem Guirado, Jean-Baptise Poux, Julien Pierre, Gregory Lamboley, Dimitri Yachvili, Maxime Mermoz, Clement Poitrenaud.
Referee: Stuart Dickinson (Australia)
Assistant referees: Dave Pearson (England), Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
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