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Preview: Argentina v Italy

08th June 2012 11:28

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Felipe Contepomi Martin Castrogiovanni Italy v Argentina 2010

New era, with some old faces: Argentina host Italy

Saturday's once-off Test between Argentina and Italy in San Juan is set to give us a glimpse into the future.

With Italy hoping to continue their evolution with a handful of fresh faces on their first tour under Jacques Brunel, and Argentina resting most of their stars for later in the year - this weekend will give as an insight into the depth of two teams on the fringes of the world rugby's elite.

Indeed, for both sides the content of the 80 minutes will be more important than the final result - a rare situation in Test rugby.

With the exception of the absence of skipper Sergio Parisse, the Azzurri are embarking on their three-Test tour of the Americas - they will play Canada next before the USA - with a very strong squad.

This tour offers the Italians a rare opportunity build up some confidence against teams of relatively modest strength in contrast to the past few years when they were made to duke it out in mismatches against the giants of the game.

The first stop will provide Brunel's side their toughest test. Argentina have won the last two fixtures between these sides - in 2008 and 2010 (both played in Italy) - but it will be the visitors who will start as favourites, based purely on the fact they have a near full-strength side.

Brunel has long spoken of his desire to change the way Italy play the game and after a solid start to his era during the 2012 Six Nations, where the first tentative steps were taken, this tour offers the opportunity for some real ground work to be done.

Don't expect the Azzurri to change their stripes overnight, however, as their pack will still form the cornerstone of their attack. The return of flank Mauro Bergamasco to full fitness and form is a boost, while prop Martin Castrogiovanni will have fresh legs having started off the bench in the Aviva Premiership semi-final and final. Fly-half Kris Burton has been backed to continue to try and spark the backline.

Argentina by contrast are a bit of an unknown entity.

A significant portion of their squad is made up of players who did duty for the Pampas in the Vodacom Cup competition in South Africa, as most the their French-based stars have been rested ahead of the Rugby Championship.

There are just five players in the starting XV with more than ten Test caps, while only Rodrigo Roncero and Felipe Contepomi have played more than 15 international games (in a late change, World Cup lock Esteban Lozada has been ruled out and replaced by Benjamín Macome).

That is not to say the Pumas team will be that weak. Fly-half Ignacio Mieres has been excellent for Exeter this season, becoming one of the first names on the team sheet. And Sale full-back Joaquín Tuculet makes his international debut after a solid year in England.

Los Pumas have also been working with World Cup-winning coach Graham Henry, and it will be interesting to note a change in their style under the influence of the Kiwi mentor.

Players to watch:

For Argentina: Wing Belisario Agulla is the younger brother of Pumas winger Horacio Agulla and was part of the 2011 Vodacom Cup winning side. Having been signed by Agen as a medical joker in August, the 23-year-old has proven his weight in the Top 14 and has earned himself a new two-year contract with the French club. He looks like a star of the future. Argentina have long been looking for a replacement for injury-prone Juan Martin Hernandez as well as the ageing Felipe Contepomi and Ignacio Mieres could be that man. After largely unsuccessful stints at Stade Français and Perpignan, Mieres has become a stalwart in the Exeter Chiefs team that finished fifth in the Aviva Premiership.

For Italy: 22-year-old wing Giovanbattista Venditti was a hit during Italy's Six Nations campaign and with the Azzurri looking to get the ball wide more often, he could feature prominently. Prop Alberto de Marchi will win his first senior cap for Italy after a strong season for Aironi. Despite all the talk of new styles, the Italian props will still get plenty of work.

Head to head: With all those new faces around, we should not forget the old dogs. Scrums are still the cornerstone of everything done by both these sides so Martin Castrogiovanni and Rodrigo Roncero are in for a battle royale. Roncero will be looking to go out with a bang after announcing his retirement at the end of the season.

Previous results:
2010: Argentina won 22-16 in Verona
2008: Argentina won 22-14 in Torino
2008: Italy won 13-12 in Cordoba
2007: Argentina won 24-6 in Mendoza
2006: Argentina won 23-16 in Rome
2005: Argentina won 39-22 in Genova
2005: Italy won 30-29 in Cordoba
2005: Argentina won 35-21 in Salta
2002: Argentina won 36-6 in Rome
2001: Argentina won 38-17 in Buenos Aires

Prediction: The bookies are giving Argentina a 12-point headstart and based purely on the relative strengths of the starting XVs, that seems about right. Italy by ten points

Rugby Union betting odds

The teams:

Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Belisario Agulla, 13 Gabriel Ascarate, 12 Felipe Contepomi (c), 11 Agustin Gosio, 10 Ignacio Mieres, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Leonardo Senatore 7 Tomas Leonardi, 6 Genaro Fessia, 5 Julio Farias-Cabello, 4 Benjamín Macome, 3 Francisco Gomez-Kodela, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Rodrigo Roncero.
Replacements: 16 Bruno Postiglioni, 17 Nahuel Tetaz-Chaparro, 18 Santiago Guzmán, 19 Tomas De La Vega, 20 Tomas Cubelli, 21 Manuel Montero, 22 Roman Miralles

Italy: 15 Luke Mclean, 14 Giovanbattista Venditti, 13 Roberto Quartaroli, 12 Alberto Sgarbi, 11 Tommaso Benvenuti, 10 Kristopher Burton, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Robert Barbieri, 7 Mauro Bergamasco, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Marco Bortolami, 4 Antonio Pavanello, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Carlo Festuccia, 1 Alberto de Marchi.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Lorenzo Romano, 18 Joshua Furno, 19 Simone Favaro, 20 Tito Tebaldi, 21 Riccardo Bocchino, 22 Giulio Toniolatti.

Date: Saturday, June 9
Venue: Estadio del Bicentenario, San Juan
Kick-off: 15.40 (18.40 GMT)
Weather: Dry. 16°C
Referee: Jerome Garces

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