Rugby World Cup: Argentina seek to stun France in battle of the unpredictables
French head coach Jacques Brunel believes second half will be decisive in close game
France’s inside centre Romain Ntamack runs with ball during a training session at the Tokyo stadium ahead of their World Cup opener against Argentina. Photograph: Franck Fife/AFP
World Cup Pool C: France v Argentina, Tokyo stadium, Saturday Saturday, 8.15am Irish time. Live on Eir Sport and ITV
Nobody knows. Such is the intangible perils of previewing the opening game of a World Cup between the most unpredictable rugby nations on earth. Remember 2007 when Los Pumas stunned a rabid Parisian crowd into bitter silence. Remember the rise of that great team before they were slammed out of contention by eventual champions the Springboks.
The Irish remember.
“We are here to give back to everything this team has done for us,” said former captain and current assistant coach Juan Fernandez Lobbe. “The group from 2007 left a mark in terms of their hard work and dedication, and we are now here to build on that as best we can.”
Nowadays there’s compelling evidence to suggest Argentina, after they prowled all the way to the Super Rugby final defeat to the Canterbury Crusaders in the guise of Jaguares, can produce a slightly less astounding shock.
Argentina coach Mario Ledesma has added three players to what is essentially an all-year-round touring club team. Nicolás Sánchez, the Stade Francais outhalf, comes in search of consistent form to promote his occasional brilliance. Castres Benjamin Urdapilleta provides cover off the bench but it is Saracens prop Juan Figallo who adds immediate power to an already gnarly pack of scrummagers.
They truly are a united gang. As has always been the Argentine way.
They still breathe as one living organism in scrums, with captain Pablo Matera the first among equals on the blindside flank. Tomás Lavanini, the animalistic lock, deserves a mention in isolation.
This sounds like we are leaning towards Argentina.
No. Presuming Fabien Galthié has had the influence of late, that so many hope he can have, to halt the downward spiral of a national side, jolted back to life by winning the rights to host the 2023 World Cup, then France should prevail.
Only Guilhem Guirado survives from the All Blacks 62-13 mauling in the 2015 quarter-final; the low water mark of a torrid eight years since reaching the 2011 final.
Romain Ntamack, who is already showing the necessary gifts for a storied career at the sharp end of Test match rugby, has been sort of trusted with the 10 jersey.
“We think that having Romain at the beginning of the game and Camille Lopez in the second part is the most satisfactory solution for us,” said head coach Jacques Brunel. “Our thinking is that the game will probably be close and the second half decisive.”
Hardly a ringing endorsement for the 20-year-old son of Emile. Perhaps Brunel’s words got lost in translation. At some stage he will ensure the French come undone. Just not today. They are teeming with magnificent players, from Antonie Dupont at scrumhalf to Yoann Huget and Gael Fickou. Factor in the promised impact of Demba Bamba, Louis Picamoles, Thomas Ramos, and victory should be a foregone conclusion.
Never that simple with France. You just never know.
FFRANCE: Maxime Medard; Damian Penaud, Gael Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Yoann Huget; Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Jefferson Poirot, Guilhem Guirado (capt), Rabah Slimani; Arthur Iturria, Sebastien Vahaamahina; Wenceslas Lauret, Charles Ollivon, Gregory Alldritt.
Replacements: Camille Chat, Cyril Baille, Demba Bamba, Bernard Le Roux, Louis Picamoles, Maxime Machenaud, Camille Lopez, Thomas Ramos.
ARGENTINA: Emiliano Boffelli; Matías Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo De La Fuente, Ramiro Moyano; Nicolas Sanchez, Tomas Cubelli; Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Agustín Creevy, Juan Figallo; Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini; Pablo Matera (capt), Marcos Kremer, Javier Ortega Desio.
Replacements: Julian Montoya, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Felipe Ezcurra, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Santiago Carreras.
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia).