Preview: Argentina v France

Date published: June 16 2012

A new-look France team will take on a confident but inexperienced Pumas outfit in the first of two Tests in Cordoba on Saturday.

A new-look France team will take on a confident but inexperienced Pumas outfit in the first of two Tests in Cordoba on Saturday.

Facing Argentina on their own turf is one of the tougher assignments in world rugby and Les Bleus have not won on Argentinean soil since 1998. In fact, France have beaten los Pumas just three times in their last ten encounters.

Just how much should be read into this weekend's result is a matter of debate, however, since neither team will be lining up their strongest side. Be that as it may, a French defeat will still be considered a significant setback.

Argentina's win over Italy last week not withstanding, the French will fancy their chances of claiming the spoils as they arrive with many of the players that will – hopefully – form the core of their team over the next four years.

The likes of Thierry Dusautoir, Imanol Harinordoquy and Nicolas Mas have been left at home for their first break in about two years, while a number of fresh faces have been given a chance as coach Philippe Saint-André begins the process of rebuilding what was an ageing side.

That said, while PSA has certainly shuffled his team – there are ten changes to the side that lost 16-9 to Wales in March – he hasn't thrown the baby out with the bath water.

In his own words, the French coach has retained the “skeleton of the Six Nations team” and there is still plenty of experience in the starting XV, especially in key positions like the half-backs. The pack has a familiar look about it, even if the average age has been dropped significantly.

Of the nine uncapped players in the French touring squad, just two have been handed starting berths, meaning France have nearly double the amount of Test caps (274 caps) than their South American opponents.

Argentina are testing the depth of their resources while keeping some of their powder dry for their dates with the southern hemisphere heavyweights later in the year.

Santiago Phelan had one of the oldest squads at the last World Cup and this June series is being used to blood the next generation of Pumas. The hosts field a team with just 156 caps in total, but nearly half of those come from one man, Felipe Contepomi. The remaining players average less than six caps per player.

Despite what might be assumed by the relatively experimental nature of both teams, there is still plenty at stake.

The draw for the pool stages of the 2015 World Cup in England will take place on December 3 in London, meaning that this year's June tours and the November internationals will take on extra significance as sides attempt to give themselves the best chance of a favourable draw.

If France can pull off victory this weekend, the reverberations will be felt in the IRB world rankings. A convincing win in Cordoba on Saturday could lift les Tricolors from sixth to fourth, ahead of England. Fourth spot is all important as it is synonymous with heading a pool and avoiding the three SANZAR giants.

Of course that draw will be far from the protagonists' minds in Cordoba, as a number of players in both squads will see this series as a chance to break into the first team.

France have had limited time to prepare but where handed a blessing in disguise when Clermont failed to make the Top 14 final. There are only four Toulouse players in the matchday 22 and none from Toulon, meaning Les Bleus have had more time than expected together in camp.

And they haven't wasted any time either. The team even had a defence session at a field near the airport outside Paris on Monday, just before getting on the plane!

All told, France could have the upper hand. But – as we were shown last week – Argentine rugby is on an upward curve and no one should expect an easy win on tour there ever again.

Players to watch:

For Argentina: 22-year-old Joaquin Tuculet was the first-choice number 15 during the Pampas XV's undefeated Vodacom Cup triumph in South Africa last year, scoring six tries. He played mainly on the wing in his first season in Europe with Sale after being recuited by Steve Diamond, who was impressed by his four tries in four games at the IRB Nations Cup. He has now signed a deal with newly promoted French club Grenoble. After a strong performance against Italy last week, Tuculet will show his versatility on Saturday by moving to outside centre. The 29-year-old hooker Andres Bordoy will win his first cap if he comes off the bench.

For France: The two obvious choices here are the debutants, Brice Dulin and Yvan Watremez. Dulin is equally comfortable on the wing or at full-back and will interchange with Jean Marcellin Buttin regularly. The 22-year-old was the star of Agen's surprisingly strong Top 14 season and has been snapped up by Castres as a result. Watremez has come through the ranks of the France U20 team, via Toulouse, and has been keeping some big names out of the Biarritz team with some impressive scrummaging. On the bench, Frederic Michalak is back with the national side. His last start for France, nearly five years ago, was ironically in a 34-10 defeat to Argentina. 18-year-old Toulouse hooker Christopher Tolofua could make his first appearance in the senior Test side, capping a marvellous debut season for the youngster. His day could get even better if he is joined by his cousin, Perpignan lock Romain Taofifenua, who has been turning heads on the French south coast.

Head-to-head: The opposing inside centres have followed very different paths to get here and have contrasting roles. Florian Fritz has been in and out of the French side for years but finally has a golden opportunity to become regular feature in midfield. PSA is expecting the Toulouse centre to ruffle some feathers with his aggressive style. Fritz has a habit of seeing red and then being shown yellow, so French fans will hope he can channel his energy. Felipe Contepomi meanwhile is the chief conductor of the Argentine orchestra and is tasked with bringing fluidity to their attack. 22 points in last weekend's win over Italy helped Contepomi overtake legend Hugo Porta to become Argentina's all-time record points scorer, and brought his points tally to 610. The Pumas' chances will revolve around the Stade Français pivot in more ways than one…so Fritz will be out to smash him!

Previous results:
2010: France won 15-9 in Montpellier
2010:Argentina won 41-13 in Buenos Aires
2008: France won 12-6 in Marseille
2007: Argentina won 34-10 in Paris
2007: Argentina won 17-10 in Paris
2006: France won 27-26 in Paris
2004: Argentina won 24-14 in Marseilles
2003: Argentina won 33-32 in Buenos Aires
2003: Argentina won 10-6 in Buenos Aires
2002: Argentina won 28-27 in Buenos Aires

Prediction: It's a tough