France should edge Argentina
France will be determined to show coach Philippe Saint-Andre against bogey team Argentina in Lille on Saturday that unlike their predecessors they can put together two impressive performances in successive tests.
Their 33-6 defeat of the Wallabies last Saturday - their first over them since 2005 - saw the French fulfill the first part of what Saint-Andre hopes will be three victories in November and assure themselves of one of the top four seedings for the 2015 World Cup draw in December.
However, Saint-Andre acknowledges the Pumas may present the stiffest of their three tests - they round off their campaign against Samoa on November 24 - and not just because of their poor record against the South Americans, which has seen the Argentinians win eight of their last 12 encounters.
For the Argentinians, who are a mix of hardened veterans and new blood brought in since last year's World Cup, produced an impressive performance to defeat Six Nations Grand Slam champions Wales 26-12 at the Millennium Stadium last Saturday.
All the more reason why former France captain Saint-Andre is looking to this French side to produce an unstereotypical performance in what will be the first rugby test played at Lille's flashy new stadium.
"We want to see whether we're able to win two very, very high-level matches in succession. It's an enormous challenge for the staff and the players," said the 45-year-old, who was capped 69 times from 1990-97.
"In French rugby we are used to producing great performances worth 18 out of 20 and to follow up with an eight out of 20.
"What we are aiming to do now is to be more consistent - to put in a good week's training and not to get carried away. To reproduce the same physicality and the same realism."
Saint-Andre, who first made his name as a coach in England with Gloucester where he had ended his playing career, is also at pains to keep the pressure off the mercurial fly-half Frederic Michalak, who symbolises the French habit of playing brilliantly one week and then mediocrely the next.
"Talk about other players, leave Frederic alone," said Saint-Andre, who will again pair Michalak alongside Maxime Machenaud as the halfback partnership.
"He is working hard, he is hungry to continue to do so, we are keen to continue with Frederic but also Francois Trinh-Duc.
"It is absolutely essential to stop putting so much pressure on those that play at fly-half.
"There is a French culture which dictates that when one wins, the fly-half is the best player in the world and when one loses, it is time to burn his effigy.
"Frederic played well last week, and I am not going to put more pressure on him than that."
While Saint-Andre made just one change to his starting line-up, with lock Yohann Maestri returning after recovering from a back problem, his Pumas counterpart Santiago Phelan made several.
He hands starts to both fullback Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, who replaces injured fullback Juan Martin Hernandez, and Biarritz centre Marcelo Bosch comes in for the sidelined veteran Felipe Contepomi.
Both Amorosino and Bosch missed out on the Wales game as they were kept back for French club duty and both are more than able replacements for the injured duo.
The French will also have to be wary of the flying wing Juan Imhoff, who scored a try against the Welsh and created the other.
"It has been a long time, since Ignacio Corleto (now 34 and who played in three World Cups including 2007 where they finished third), since we have had a back like this," said Racing-Metro coach and former Puma great Gonzalo Quesada.
"He creates fear in the opposing defence and is able to finish off his moves clinically."
Players to watch:
For France: With only one change to the team, the spotlight will automatically fall on lock Yoann Maestri, back from an injury that prevented him from fronting up to the Aussies last week. He has been around the French national team since 2010 - a breakout year for him and his physicality will be vital against the Argentineans. Flyhalf Frederic Michalak will be a key player if the French hope to be consistent, as he could be sublime one week and utterly dismal the next. When he is on song, he is a joy to watch.
For Argentina: Injuries will force the spotlight onto Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, who comes in for Juan Martin Hernandez at fullback and Marcelo Bosch has also been promoted to the starting XV after knee ligament damage ruled out veteran centre Felipe Contepomi. Contepomi and Hernandez were key elements in the Puma game plan and Amorosino and Bosch will be under pressure to step up. There has been plenty of media attention on left wing Juan Imhoff, who will be keen to show he deserves a more regular starting spot than he got this year.
Head to head: There can be no bigger showdown that the two No.8s - Louis Picamoles (France) versus Leonardo Senatore (Argentina), the men that gave their respective teams so much go-forward in last week's victories. And the scrum battle could be just as bruising - Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski and Yannick Forestier (France), trying to outmuscle Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guinazu and Marcos Ayerza (Argentina). However, the key to the outcome may well be in the hands of the flyhalves, Frederic Michalak (France) against Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina).
2012: France won 49-10, Tucuman
2012: Argentina won 23-20, Cordoba
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
Prediction: Pundits are often surprised at how much more competitive Argentina appear when they face France and the incredible track record they have against them - which is by far the best when compared with their results against other Tier One countries. The fact is the majority of the Pumas ply their trade in France and are familiar with everything French. There simply is no 'fear factor', the players know each other simply too well. For that very reason, the Pumas will have a chance of causing another big 'upset' ... lets rephrase that: score another win over France. It is going to be close and the result will depend on which version of French rugby turn up - the efficient, clinical outfit that demolished Australia or the one that so often capitulates after a good performance. We think France will put another good showing on the park and edge Argentina - by less than 10 points.
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 Pape (captain), 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 (captain), 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, November 18
Venue: Grand Stade Lille Metropole, Lille
Kick-off: 21.00 (20.00 GMT)
Expected weather: Overcast with a 70 percent chance of rain. Low of 6°C, and a high of 12°C
Referee: Steve Walsh (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), David Changleng (Scotland)
TMO: Carlo Damasco (Italy)
AFP & rugby365.com