Pumas and England ready for Old Trafford
June 4, 2009
Tom May will win his first England cap against Argentina on Saturday © Getty Images
Argentina and England go head-to-head at Old Trafford on Saturday with both sides looking to throw down a marker and continue to rebuild their confidence under new coaching regimes.
The 'Theatre of Dreams' will double as a home ground for the Pumas after the RFU agreed to stage the first Test of their two-match series here as a financial boost to the Argentinean Rugby Union (UAR), with proceedings moving on to Salta on June 13.
After their victory at Twickenham in 2006 and their stunning run at the 2007 Rugby World Cup the Pumas are genuine contenders on the world stage, but their cureent squad mirrors the building blocks in place for England.
England manager Martin Johnson has included three new caps in his side as well as reuniting the Armitage brothers, Delon at fullback and Steffon on the openside flank. Newcastle's Bath-bound prop David Wilson, Bath wing Matt Banahan and Toulon's new signing Tom May will all win their first caps after appearances in the defeat to the Barbarians at Twickenham last weekend.
Johnson has made a number of changes from last time out, with May replacing Jordan Turner-Hall, James Haskell replacing Chris Robshaw, Armitage replacing Lewis Moody, Mark Cueto replacing Ben Foden on the wing and Dan Hipkiss winning his eighth cap in place of Jamie Noon.
Confronting Johnson's new-look England is an Argentina side that blends a host of young talents with a bruising and experienced pack. Juan Martin Hernandez, 'The Magician' to his fans, starts at fly-half in a backline also featuring Harlequins centre Gonzalo Tiesi and pacy Brive utility back Horacio Agulla.
In the pack, another Toulon recruit takes the captain's armband with Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe leading the side in the absence of Felipe Contepomi. Lobbe starts at No.8 in a back-row also featuring Stade Francais' Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Racing Metro's Alvaro Galindo. The front-row, as always with the Pumas, is fierce and rock-solid. Rodrigo Roncero, Alberto Vernet Basualdo and Juan Pablo Orlandi will be relishing the tight exchanges against an England trio of Wilson, hooker Dylan Hartley and Wasps' Tim Payne.
"The squad has had an up-and-down year and are better for it. That's part of the process," said Johnson. "It's hollow when you've lost games to say you've learnt something but it's true. Delon has gone from trying to get into the Saxons team to being a candidate for the Lions tour and on Saturday will start his 10th Test in one year.
"Riki Flutey played nine internationals for England and is on a Lions tour. Tom Croft is on a Lions tour. "We're taking steps in the right direction, as a team and as a coaching group. We've got a good autumn series coming up but the first thing is Argentina."
Argentina skipper Lobbe is a huge football fan, and although he supports Manchester United's fierce rivals Liverpool he is looking forward to following in the footsteps of his countryman Carlos Tevez in treading the Old Trafford turf.
"Carlos Tevez is a great player because every time he plays he gives 100%," said Lobbe. "He has that fiery Latino temperament that I have myself, whereas a lot of my English team-mates at Sale were a lot more reserved.
"Tevez certainly could be a rugby player. I know Manchester City want him but who knows, maybe he will end up at Liverpool. For me representing Argentina is massive and playing at grounds like Twickenham, Croke Park and Old Trafford is brilliant. This weekend is particularly special because I enjoyed three very happy years at Sale and really enjoyed living in Manchester because it's a great city."
Lobbe also played up the importance of fly-half Hernandez, and hoped that he and his team-mates could provide him with a platform to shine against England.
"Juan is the chosen one and if he's not the best in the world then he's not far behind," he said. "He was born with all the skills you need in rugby but he will never win a game on his own. We need to make sure everything is set up for Juan to shine at Old Trafford."
Argentina: Agulla (Brive), Aramburu (Dax), Tiesi (Harlequins), Avramovic (Montauban), Camacho (Harlequins), Hernández (Stade Francais), Vergallo (Dax), Lobbe (Toulon, captain), Leguizamon (Stade Francais), Galindo (Racing Metro), Albacete (Toulouse), Carizza (Biarritz), Orlandi (Rovigo), Basualdo (Toulouse), Roncero (Stade Francais).
Replacements: Guiñazu (Agen), Ayerza (Leicester), Lozada (Toulon), Abadie (Capitolina), Lalanne (London Irish), Fernández (Hindu), Amorosino (Pucara)
England: Delon Armitage (London Irish), Mark Cueto (Sale Sharks), Dan Hipkiss (Leicester Tigers), Tom May (Newcastle Falcons), Matt Banahan (Bath Rugby), Andy Goode (CA Brive), Danny Care (Harlequins), Tim Payne (London Wasps), Dylan Hartley (Northampton Saints), David Wilson (Newcastle Falcons), Steve Borthwick (Saracens, captain), Louis Deacon (Leicester Tigers), James Haskell (London Wasps), Steffon Armitage (London Irish), Nick Easter (Harlequins)
Replacements: Steve Thompson (CA Brive), Julian White (Leicester Tigers), Ben Kay (Leicester Tigers), Jordan Crane (Leicester Tigers), Paul Hodgson (London Irish), Sam Vesty (Leicester Tigers), Mathew Tait (Sale Sharks)
Concussion, relegation and the mother of all surprises - it's the Monday Maul.
Huw Richards assesses where Wales are after a mixed Six Nations, with front row seats still very much available for the World Cup
John Mitchell lapped up the action on 'Sensational Saturday' - but warns not to expect a repeat come Rugby World Cup time later this year
Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies