Rugby Union: French set for battle

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The Independent Online
FRANCE BEGIN their build-up to next year's World Cup with an awkward match against Argentina in Nantes today, looking to recapture some of the champagne rugby they produced at the end of last season.

The French, who beat the Pumas 2-0 in a two-Test series in Buenos Aires in June, will be looking to build on the team that won a second successive Five Nations Grand Slam last April in scintillating style.

Argentina's coach, Jose Imhoff, regards the French side captained by hooker Raphael Ibanez as vying with Australia for the tag of second best in the world behind South Africa. Imhoff's Pumas, stung by defeat to Italy in Piacenza last Saturday, improved in a 38-30 loss to the Barbarians on Wednesday and are determined to match their class of 1992 who shocked the French 24-20 the last time the two sides met in Nantes. That was Argentina's fourth and last victory against France in 33 meetings.

The French manager, Jo Maso, impressed by some of the Pumas' play against the Barbarians, warned: "They showed a rare defensive aggression, they were good holding possession and occupied their defensive line well."

Argentina will need to play at speed against a very fast French side and they will be looking to the Richmond scrum-half Agustin Pichot to dictate quick movements. "If we want to trouble a team like France we must vary our points of attack... be more dangerous at the line-outs and move the ball out quickly," said their captain Pedro Sporleder.

Three Pumas remain from their 1992 side - the former captain Lisandro Arbizu, his successor Sporleder and the English-based front-row forward Federico Mendez, who played at prop in 1992 but will be hooker today.

Argentina have made six changes and moved Arbizu, who plays for Brive, from centre to stand-off after the Pumas' limp performance against Italy.

The French have generally retained the side from the post-grand slam tour of Argentina and Fiji. On the wings, Toulouse's Emile N'Tamack comes back after nearly two years' absence through injury to win his 28th cap while Thomas Lombard, of Stade Francais, wins his first. The single change from the Grand Slam pack is new cap Sylvain Marconnet of Stade Francais for Califano, whose tour replacement Cedric Soulette is also injured.

FRANCE: A Gomes; E N'Tamack, S Glas, F Comba, T Lombard; D Aucagne, P Carbonneau; S Marconnet, R Ibanez (capt), F Tournaire, O Brouzet, F Pelous, O Magne, M Lievremont, T Lievremont.

ARGENTINA: M Contepomi; D Albanese, E Simone, J Orengo, I Corleto; L Arbizu, A Pichot; R Grau, F Mendez, O Hasan, P Sporleder (capt), A Allub, M Durand, M Ruiz, P Camerlinckx.

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