Italy will face Argentina in Santa Fe on June 12 in a one-off Test under the guidance of new head coach Conor O’Shea.
Both sides are at the dawn of a new era. For the visitors they are under new coaching management with the former Harlequins boss taking over from Jacques Brunel while Los Pumas have no European-based players in their squad.
The home side’s head coach Daniel Hourcade has selected his 28-man squad only from the newly formed Super Rugby franchise, the Jaguares, for their June opener.
With that said, Argentina will be without the likes of Juan Imhoff (Racing 92), Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe (Toulon) and Marcelo Bosch (Saracens), who will in all likelihood link up with the squad for the France Test match.
Argentina, much like the Jaguares, have been known for the physicality at the set pieces and the breakdown. It is, however, the new boys in the Super Rugby that have become renowned for their lack of discipline.
Given that los Pumas only have – with the exception of Brumbies scrum-half Tomás Cubelli – Jaguares’ players in their squad it remains to be seen if this once-off Test will be marred by the showing of yellow, or even worse, red cards.
The Azzurri also rely heavily on their physical prowess to outmuscle their opponents but will play in a very hostile environment, which could, if tempers start flaring, force referee Stuart Berry to dish out cards.
The visitors will head into this fixture with some confidence despite losing their last two matches against Argentina, as they were outclassed by less than seven points in both those fixtures.
The home side’s strong set piece will be one of their stand-out features, and this facet of play must be neutralised early on by the visitors if they want to be successful.
O’Shea’s troops will need to dominate both the territorial and possession stakes as a physical battle for a long duration might dent their confidence and hand the opportunistic Argentinians the momentum needed to gain the ascendancy.
With that said, the visitors could also be doing some energy-sapping mauling and pick-up-and-drive moves, which given the strength of the likes of experienced lock Quintin Geldenhuys and prop Lorenzo Cittadini, could see the Azurri finish on the winning side in this clash for the first time since 2008.
This, however, will be a tough ask for the visitors as they are without their 119 Test cap leader, Sergio Parisse. The 32-year-old has been rested by O’Shea.
Can the visitors draw on the inspiration that they had eight years ago and just how much will the inspirational Parisse be missed?
A win for O’Shea’s men will not only boost their morale but could also signal the start of a new era, for the right reasons, under new management.
This will however not be an easy task given the hostile environment that usually gives Argentina the edge needed to intimidate even the toughest of sides when playing at home.
Players to watch:
For Argentina: Los Pumas captain and hooker Agustin Creevy has endured a frustrating time at Super Rugby level and will be keen to impress upon his return to the Test arena. The 31-year-old’s offloading skills has earned him the nickname of “Sonny Bill” in the Argentina camp but he also leads from the front at the coalface of los Pumas’ forward effort. The Azzurri‘s defence will have to be at their best because he is sure to wreak havoc he builds up a head of steam.
For Italy: Lorenzo Cittadini‘s physicality in the scrums will be vital for the visitors as they look to match the powerful and robust Argentina forwards. The Wasps hardman is sure to put in some big hits and ensure that good go-forward ball is secured for Italy.
Playmaker Carlo Canno has been in accurate kicking form for Zebre, the fly-half is known to not hold back even against the toughest of defences. The 23-year-old pivot will come up against strong opposition and in a very hostile South American environment he is expected to lead the way and be one of the visitors’ stand-out performers.
Head to head: Italy lock Quintin Geldenhuys will be the go-to man come lineout time for the visitors while the young Jaguares second-rower Guido Petti will be testing his mettle against the wily Azzurri veteran, who also thrives on the physical aspect of the game. Both players are also solid ball-carriers but equally adept on defence and will be at the forefront of their respective sides’ forward efforts.
Prediction: Despite not having any overseas-based players in their squad, the home side will still manage to outsmart their opponents with homeground advantage proving crucial. Argentina to win by more than ten points.
2014: Argentina won 20-18 in Genoa
2013: Argentina won 19-14 in Naples
2012: Argentina won 37-22 in San Juan
2010: Argentina won 22-16 in Verona
2008: Argentina won 22-14 in Torino
2008: Italy won 12-13 in Cordoba
2007: Argentina won 24-6 in Mendoza
2006: Argentina won 23-16 in Rome
Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Santiago Cordero, 13 Matías Moroni, 12 Juan Martin Hernandez, 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Facundo Isa, 7 Thomas Lezana, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Matias Alemanno, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Nahuel Chaparro Tetaz, 2 Agustín Creevy (c), 1 Santiago García Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Felipe Arregui, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Javier Ortega Desio, 20 Juan Manuel Leguizamón, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 23 Ramiro Moyano
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Leonardo Sarto, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Tommaso Boni, 11 David Odiete, 10 Carlo Canna, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Andries van Schalkwyk, 7 Simone Favaro, 6 Abraham Steyn, 5 Marco Fuser, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Lorenzo Cittadini, 2 Ornel Gega, 1 Andrea Lovotti
Replacements: 16 Oliviero Fabiani, 17 Sami Panico, 18 Pietro Ceccarelli, 19 Valerio Bernabo’, 20 Robert Barbieri, 21 Guglielmo Palazzani, 22 Tommaso Allan, 23 Giovanbattista Venditti
Date: Saturday, June 11
Venue: Estadio Municipal, Comodoro Rivadavia, Santa Fé
Kick-off: 15:45 local (19:45 GMT)
Referee: Stuart Berry (South Africa)
Assistant Referees: Luke Pearce (England), Joaquín Montes (Uruguay)