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Preview: France v Argentina

16th November 2012 07:43

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Last line: Brice Dulin

After two great victories last weekend, France and Argentina will face off in Lille in the latest episode of their passionate rivalry.

Victory for les Bleus lifted them into the top four of the IRB World Rankings, that crucial position that guarantees they will not have to face Australia, South Africa or New Zealand in the group stages of the World Cup in 2015.

That being said, if they perform to the same level as last Saturday in the Stade de France, then they could take down any side.

Fielding a side that was a blend of returning faces - Frederic Michalak and Yannick Nyanga - and new caps in Yannick Forestier and Jocelino Suta, France were outstanding at the scrum and breakdown against the Wallabies.

Michalak's return showcased the former Sharks and Toulouse fly-half at the height of his powers. Excellent with the boot, his passes were consistently accurate and he controlled the game surprisingly well considering he has spent the majority of this season playing at scrum-half for club side Toulon.

The power France showed in Paris at the contact area must be re-harnessed and then imposed on a strong Argentinian pack if victory is to be theirs.

That is, if their defence can handle the Pumas. Widely marked down as underdogs for their clash with Wales last weekend in Cardiff, Argentina put in a phenomenal performance.

With their set-piece running smoothly, they consistently produced dangerous attacks from a solid platform, giving Wales a whole host of problems. Playing in the Rugby Championship has clearly made them sharper - the offloading in the build-up to Juan Imhoff's try would have made the All Blacks proud.

Coping with the loss of the inspirational Felipe Contepomi, the two brilliant finishes from Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho set the Pumas apart from their hosts. Nicolas Sanchez was decisive in the fly-half spot, smartly taking his drop goals when the opportunities presented themselves. This felt like a new, improved Argentina and heading to Lille, confidence will be on a high.

Clean possession will ultimately win the match and that is where, apart from his leadership, France will really miss Thierry Dusautoir. Wales struggled to get a lot of change off Argentina at the breakdown and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon were both phenomenal at securing possession and turning over the ball.

A lot will hinge on the scrummaging battle between the world-class Nicolas Mas and Marcos Ayerza on one side, and the inexperienced Forestier and rising star Juan Figallo on the other.

Argentina's approach of taking drop goals when possible away from home may prove decisive, given that recent fixtures between the two sides have either been especially close or blowouts.

Given the confidence in both camps after last week's success, this should be tight.

Players to watch:

For France: Unbelievably, last weekend against Australia was Yannick Nyanga's first game for France in five years. The Toulouse stalwart had been exiled since France's disappointing third-place playoff defeat to Argentina back in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, not winning a single cap during the Marc Lièvremont era. He was excellent on his return against the Wallabies, eager to prove he belonged and admirably filling the boots of club team-mate Dusautoir. Elsewhere, wrecking ball Louis Picamoles caused chaos for Australia last weekend, so expect the same again.

For Argentina: The talisman. Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe made the Millennium Stadium pitch feel small last weekend, popping up everywhere. His offload for Imhoff's try was sensational, accompanying his usual impressive tackle count and presence at the breakdown. An adopted son of France plying his trade in Toulon, Fernandez Lobbe will relish the chance to pick up a victory over his club team-mates. Elsewhere, Marcelo Bosch comes in at inside centre to replace the injured Contepomi, looking to back up his impressive outings in The Rugby Championship.

Head-to-head: Hard to overlook the front-row battle between Nicolas Mas and Marcos Ayerza. The Frenchman, like all good props, simply gets better with age and enjoyed a destructive evening against the Wallabies last weekend in Paris. Ayerza on the other hand has been patiently biding his time behind Rodrigo Roncero, but with the great Puma now retired, Ayerza has his chance to shine. Wales debutant Aaron Jarvis proved to be an ample appetiser for the Leicester loosehead - Mas might prove difficult to swallow.

Previous results:

2012: France won 49-10 in Tucuman
2012: Argentina won 23-20 in Cordoba

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 17-12 in Paris
2006: France won 27-26 in Paris
2004: Argentina won 24-14 in Marseille
2003: Argentina won 33-32 in Buenos Aires
2003: Argentina won 10-6 in Buenos Aires

Prediction: Fast developing into one of the game's great rivalries, previous results indicate that home advantage does not necessarily guarantee a victory. When you factor in the confidence of both camps following last weekend's wins, the gap closes even further. Close games are often dictated by defensive discipline and accuracy with the boot, making that battle at the scrum essential.

France's demolition of Australia was a far cry from their fourth placed finish in last year's Six Nations. Argentina's introduction into the Rugby Championship is already showing signs of a successful return. This will be close. France by six points.

The teams:

France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Wesley Fofana, 13 Florian Fritz , 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Vincent Clerc, 10 Frederic Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Louis Picamoles, 7 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 6 Yannick Nyanga, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Papé (c), 3 Nicolas Mas, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Yannick Forestier.
Replacements: 16 Benjamin Kayser, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Vincent Debaty, 19 Jocelino Suta, 20 Damien Chouly, 21 Morgan Parra, 22 Francois Trinh-Duc, 23 Yoann Huget.

Argentina: 15 Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Marcelo Bosch, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 5 Julio Farias Cabello, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Tomas De la Vega, 21 Tomas Cubelli, 22 Gonzalo Camacho, 23 Joaquin Tuculet.

Date: Saturday, 17 November
Venue: Stade Lille Metropole
Kick-off: 21:00 local (20:00 GMT)
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), David Changleng (Scotland)
Television match official: Carlo Damasco (Italy)

By Ben Coles

@bencoles_

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