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Preview: Italy v Argentina

12th November 2010 08:34

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Contepomi looking up

Contepomi: Key to Pumas' success

Italy and Argentina go head to head in Verona on Saturday, with both teams desperate to open their November Test account with a win.

Ah... Verona - the streets which inspired William Shakespeare for his Romeo and Juliet. But there will be no love in the air when these two sides clash this weekend.

Italy will be looking to end a run of four straight home defeats to Argentina when the pair meet. The Pumas have won seven of the last nine meetings between the teams, including all four of those in Italy, although the Azzurri have won two of the last three in South America.

Both sides face some stern challenges ahead, with Italy up against three teams ahead of them in the IRB rankings: Argentina (eighth), Australia (second) and Fiji (tenth) in their last internationals before next year's Six Nations.

The Pumas' fixture list isn't any easier, but will have circled Saturday's clash with their Latin rivals as the one which could present a less of a challenge compared to France and Ireland later in the month.

On form, Argentina will enter Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi with a spring in their step after thumping the French 41-13 back home in June but need to ensure that their play takes off from where they left off.

The hosts can't boast such a feat this year, and instead play host to the South Americans on the back of a two-Test series defeat to South Africa in June.

Italy's last win came in February, thanks to a close defeat of Scotland - their first Six Nations win in two years. Before that, it took the Italians fourteen attempts to experience victory after ending a 13-match losing streak in 2009 by beating Samoa.

However, Saturday's clash presents Nick Mallett and his charges a chance to start fresh and turn the table on their past results ahead of next year's World Cup in New Zealand.

Looking ahead to Italy's first Test against Argentina, Mallett believes these games, less than a year before rugby's biggest spectacle, are crucial.

"The first autumn international will be very important," he said.

"Argentina are at the same level as us and if we exploit home advantage, we can beat them.

"In 2008 in Turin we weren't great but in Verona we must do better than two years ago (a 22-14 defeat).

"They're very strong up front and have great individuals but we have to avoid playing to their strengths and attack them with the ball in hand.

"That could make the difference."

And that is one area that Mallett admits the team needs to improve.

"We need to improve our running game. New Zealand's front five all play like back rowers; we have forwards who are very good in the scrum and in closed situations but we have to improve in other areas of the game or we'll struggle to score tries."

Ones to watch:

For Italy: Teenage Treviso winger Tommaso Benvenuti will make his Italy debut against Argentina. After a positive start to the season for his club side in the midfield, the 19-year-old's ability to perform at this level will no doubt be severley tested by the Pumas.

For Argentina: Both sides will be missing crucial players as Italy have lost flanker Mauro Bergamasco to a shoulder injury while Pumas fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez is still suffering a thigh problem. However, one feels Argentina are best equipped to deal with their loss. Felipe Contepomi carries a wealth of experience, and scored 31 points the last time he played at 10 when Argentina hammered France in June.

Head to head: When these two sides clash, it's always the battle up front which is going to be the key. Man-to-man Argentina are better than Italy in the backs, but first they have to win the forward battle.

Previous results:
2008: Argentina won 22-14, Torino
2008: Italy won 13-12, Cordoba
2007: Argentina won 24-6, Mendoza
2006: Argentina won 23-16, Rome
2005: Argentina won 39-22, Genoa
2005: Italy won 30-29, Cordoba
2005: Argentina won 35-21, Salta
2002: Argentina won 36-6, Rome
2001: Argentina won 38-17, Buenos Aires
1998: Italy won 23-19, Piacenza

Prediction: Tougher call to make than we originally thought. But it's hard to bet against history where the Pumas have quite enjoyed beating Italy in their own backyard in recent years. Argentina to win by seven points.

The teams:

Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Tommaso Benvenuti , 13 Gonzalo Canale, 12 Andrea Masi, 11 Mirco Bergamasco, 10 Craig Gower, 9 Tito Tebaldi, 8 Sergio Parisse (c), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Quintin Geldenhuys, 4 Carlo Antonio Del Fava, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Salvatore Perugini.
Replacements: 16 Fabio Ongaro, 17 Andrea Lo Cicero, 18 Santiago Dellape', 19 Paul Derbyshire, 20 Pablo Canavosio, 21 Luciano Orquera, 22 Alberto Sgarbi.

Argentina: 15 Martin Rodriguez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Santiago Fernandez, 11 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 10 Felipe Contepomi (c), 9 Nicolas Vergallo; 8 Juan Fernandez Lobbe, 7 Miguel De Achaval, 6 Genaro Fessia, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Martin Scelzo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Agustín Creevy, 17 Marcos Ayerza, 18 Juan Figallo, 19 Esteban Lozada, 20 Álvaro Galindo, 21 Alfredo Lalanne, 22 Horacio Agulla.

Date: Saturday, November 13
Venue: Stadio Marcantonio Bentegodi, Verona
Kick-off: 15:00 (14:00 GMT)
Weather forecast: Mostly cloudy with a chance of rain. High of 14°C, low of 8°C
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)

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1New Zealand622
2South Africa619
3Australia611
4Argentina67