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SPORTS | 20-09-2019 13:29

Argentina gear up for first Rugby World Cup test against France

Ledesma turns to mercurial Stade Francais fly-half Nicolás Sánchez to pull the strings for Los Pumas in opening World Cup Pool C match against France in early hours of Saturday morning.

Argentina have turned to mercurial Stade Francais fly-half Nicolás Sánchez to pull the strings for Los Pumas' opening World Cup Pool C match against France, which kicks off in the early hours of Saturday morning (4.15am Buenos Aires time).

Sánchez has a ream of French experience, having also played for Stade's Top 14 rivals Bordeaux-Begles and Toulon over four seasons before linking up briefly with the Jaguares in Super Rugby.

The Albiceleste will be skippered by marauding flanker Pablo Matera in a strong-looking pack that sees Saracens' Juan Figallo starting at tight-head prop.

The third player in Argentina's 31-man squad attached to a club outside the South American country is also included, as coach Mario Ledesma named goal-kicking Castres playmaker Benjamín Urdapilleta on the bench.

The rest of the match-day team play for the Jaguares, who made it to the Super Rugby final in July, going down 19-3 to the Crusaders.

Line-out specialist Guido Petti was selected to make his 50th appearance for Argentina at lock but Ledesma left out experienced backrower Juan Manuel Leguizamón, who is one short of equalling former centre Felipe Contepomi's Pumas' record of 87 test appearances.

The team that takes its chances will prevail in what is expected to be a tight game with "two good defences," said head coach Mario Ledesma. "France has changed the way they defend. They defend very high up and leave little space."

"I think the key will be unlocking this defence and the kicking game will play an important part," added Ledesma, who has a close link to France, having been based there as a player and a coach. "The mental aspect will be important. To be able to do what you want to do."

Saturday's clash in Tokyo will go a long way to determining the fate of Pool C, dubbed the "group of death" as it also includes in-form England. Matera said the match was quite simply "the most important game of our lives."

French view

France coach Jacques Brunel thinks he knows how to beat Argentina — impose an attacking style of play early on and then batter the Pumas with experienced players when they start tiring.

Rather than unwisely take on Argentina in a battle of attrition, Brunel wants France to produce an attacking game with 20-year-old Romain Ntamack scheming from fly-half and pacey 22-year-old Grégory Alldritt making darting runs at No. 8. They have just 15 caps between them, but were chosen over far more experienced players.

"We're going to try to put into place a style of play which causes them problems. We have potential and quality in our squad," Brunel said Thursday. "A good number of the players are young and only have a few caps. But with the qualities that Alldritt has shown, it's no surprise to see him in the starting lineup."

Ntamack, the son of former France winger Émile Ntamack, was selected over Camille Lopez to combine in the halves with Antoine Dupont.

Even though Ntamack usually plays his club rugby at centre, Brunel has "no doubts" he can organize France's attack.

"It's no surprise. We know that Romain feels at ease playing there. He's shown that he's not scared to play there. He will also take on the kicking duties," the head coach said, adding that the choice was also made to try to punish Argentina later in the game. "We think that using Romain early in the match and Camille Lopez at the end is more satisfactory."

Brunel made another tactical pick at the base of the scrum in preferring the more mobile Alldritt — who has three tries — to veteran Louis Picamoles, who is appearing in his third World Cup.

Maxime Médard starts at full-back ahead of Thomas Ramos, who was selected among the reserves with Lopez and Picamoles. With Wesley Fofana injured, former rugby sevens winger Virimi Vakatawa will start at center alongside Gaël Fickou.

"This match against the Pumas could be very tight, so that's why we decided to put a lot of experienced players on the bench," Brunel said. "Our thinking is that the game will probably be close and the second half decisive. We therefore preferred to choose experimented players for the second half."

Rabah Slimani and Jefferson Poirot will start in the front row, as expected, on either side of hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado.

Point to prove

Both teams have points to prove, in a Pool which also contains Tonga and the United States.

Two-time semi-finalists Argentina are fighting to stop a losing streak reaching 10 straight games since winning in Australia in last year's Rugby Championship. The Pumas came close to beating New Zealand for the first time and narrowly lost to Australia in the same tournament this season.

Three-time runners-up France has been on a downward slope after years of mediocrity, punctuated by a home loss to Fiji, a walloping 44-8 defeat away to England and one top-three finish in the Six Nations since losing the World Cup final in 2011.

France lost the 2007 third-place match to Argentina but won their previous encounter, 28-13 in November, and won 27-0 away in 2016.

Argentina will doubtless be confident of winning the midfield battles, and that France's attacking rucks are an ongoing weakness.

 

Teams

Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli, Matías Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jerónimo De La Fuente, Ramiro Moyano, Nicolás Sánchez, Tomás Cubelli; Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera (captain), Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Juan Figallo, Agustín Creevy, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.

Reserves: Julian Montoya, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Felipe Ezcurra, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Santiago Carreras.

France: Maxime Médard, Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Yoann Huget, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Grégory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Wenceslas Lauret, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Arthur Iturria, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Jefferson Poirot.

Reserves: Camille Chat, Cyril Baille, Demba Bamba, Bernard Le Roux, Louis Picamoles, Maxime Machenaud, Camille Lopez, Thomas Ramos.

– TIMES/AP/AFP

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