Preview: Argentina v France
Argentina captain Felipe Contepomi could close out his international career on Saturday, when they take on France in the second Test.
Argentina captain Felipe Contepomi could close out his international career on Saturday, dealing a blow to the Pumas ahead of their entry into the re-branded Southern Hemisphere championship later this year.
The 34-year-old utility back starred at centre last weekend as Argentina defeated France 23-20 in the first Test in Cordoba, a result that left the tourists without a win in Argentina for 13 years.
Stade Francais star Contepomi is likely to be a thorn in the side of the French again in the second Test in Tucuman on Saturday in what could be an emotional farewell.
Argentina take on New Zealand, Australia and South Africa in the Rugby Championship, which replaces the Tri-Nations, with the Springboks first up for the Pumas in Durban on August 18.
By that time, however, Contepomi is expected to be back on club duty in France with his Paris employers.
"To play in the Four Nations, you have to prepare in July. The Argentine federation has an agreement with the European clubs - those that play in the June internationals won't take part in the new championship," he said.
"I am going to take four weeks vacation and then I will take part in pre-season training with Stade Français. If the coaches want it, I will always be here. But I don't think I can play in the Four Nations."
Pumas coach Santiago Phelan has been working with two squads in mind - the first, with the country's best players at its heart, are resting.
The second squad is made up mostly of the country's promising youngsters and with the team built around Contepomi they impressed against Italy in a 37-22 win as well as last week's first Test against the French.
Contepomi has often haunted France - on their last visit to Buenos Aires, the Pumas stormed to a 41-13 win with the Argentine star scoring two tries and grabbing 31 points.
He scored 13 points last weekend, just seven days after he had become his country's leading points scorer, surpassing Hugo Porta.
"He is the kind of player that you want in your team. He is the complete player who can play at fly-half, centre or full-back," said former international Diego Dominguez, who won two caps for Argentina before switching to Italy.
Meanwhile, Phelan has made seven changes to the side that won last weekend's first Test.
Tomas Cubelli and Benjamin Urdapilleta replace Martin Landajo and Ignacio Mieres at scrum-half and fly-half respectively.
Joaquin Tuculet returns to full-back after playing in midfield in the first Test meaning Agustin Gosio wins his third cap at outside centre.
Belisario Agulla, who scored the Pumas' first try last week, is dropped in favour of Facundo Barrea.
In the forwards, hooker Andres Bordoy, loosehead prop Francisco Gomez Kodela, lock Julio Farias Cabello and number eight Leonardo Senatore are also called in.
France will name their starting XV later on Friday, but Clermont Auvergne prop Thomas Domingo was called up earlier this week to replaced Biarritz's injured loosehead Yvan Watremez. The latter picked up an injury on debut last weekend.
It also appears coach Philippe Saint-André will make wholesale changes - the most notably in the backline, where Sharks flyhalf Frédéric Michalak is set to partner Maxime Machenaud (No.9) in an all-new halfback combination.
Wing Benjamin Fall, centre Maxime Mermoz, flank Alexandre Lapandry and of course Debaty could represent the other changes.
Players to watch:
For Argentina: No doubt all the attention will focus on Puma captain Felipe Contepomi, in what is almost certainly his last game for his country. There is no need to look much further, although players like Tomás Cubelli, Esteban Lozada, Julio Farías Cabello and Francisco Gómez Kodela may warrant a second glance.
For France: Having answered his country's SOS, prop Thomas Domingo will most likely find himself in the starting XV and in the spotlight. However, Frédéric Michalak at flyhalf, may find some unwanted attention from the opposition. Fullback Joaquín Tuculet, scrumhalf Tomás Cubelli, lock Esteban Lozada and the front row of Francisco Gómez Kodela, Andrés Bordoy and Eusebio Guiñazú may also enjoy some cursory glances from the critics.
Head to head: You will start with whomever opposes Puma captain Felipe Contepomi, in this case most likely Maxime Mermoz, as he will have to contain a classy player determined to go out on a high. Flyhalf could be another interesting battle with Frédéric Michalak starting for France, which will put Argentina's Benjamín Urdapilleta in the spotlight.
2012: Argentina won 23-20, Córdoba
2010: France won 15-9, Montpellier
2010: Argentina won 41-13, Buenos Aires
2008: France won 12-6, Marseille
2007: Argentina won 34-10, Paris (World Cup third-place play-off)
2007: Argentina won 17-12, Paris (World Cup pool match)
2006: France won 27-26, Paris
2004: Argentina won 24-14, Marseille
2003: Argentina won 33-32, Buenos Aires
2003: Argentina won 10-6, Buenos Aires
Prediction: Forget the history between these two teams and the fact that France haven't won on Argentina soil since 1998. The real motivation for the Pumas - and they can get emotional about these things - would be to send Felipe Contepomi away with a win. It will be another dour arm-wrestle, but Argentina should sneak it by less than 10 points.
Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Facundo Barrea, 13 Agustín Gosio, 12 Felipe Contepomi (captain), 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Benjamín Urdapilleta, 9 Tomás Cubelli, 8 Leonardo Senatore, 7 Tomás Leonardi, 6 Tomás De la Vega, 5 Esteban Lozada, 4 Julio Farías Cabello, 3 Francisco Gómez Kodela, 2 Andrés Bordoy, 1 Eusebio Guiñazú.
Replacements: 16 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Santiago Guzmán, 19 Benjamín Macome, 20 Rodrigo Báez, 21 Martín Landajo, 22 Gabriel Ascárate.
France: 15 Brice Dulin, 14 Benjamin Fall, 13 Florian Fritz, 12 Maxime Mermoz, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Frédéric Michalak, 9 Maxime Machenaud, 8 Fulgence Ouedraogo, 7 Louis Picamoles, 6 Alexandre Lapandry, 5 Yoann Maestri, 4 Pascal Pape (captain), 3 David Attoub, 2 Dimitri Szarzewski, 1 Vincent Debaty.
Replacements: 16 Christopher Tolofua, 17 Thomas Domingo, 18 Christophe Samson, 19 Wenceslas Lauret, 20 Morgan Parra, 21 Francois Trinh-Duc, 22 Wesley Fofana.
Date: Saturday, June 23
Venue: Estadio José Fierro, Tucumán.
Kick-off: 18.10 (21.10 GMT)
Expected weather: There will be more sun than clouds and the chance of rain is minimal. The high will be 24°C and the low 9°C
Referee: George Clancy (Ireland)
Assistant referees: Wayne Barnes (England), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
AFP and rugby365.com