Scotland are aiming to maintain their record of qualifying for the quarter-finals of every World Cup – and with a match to spare – by defeating Argentina in Wellington tomorrow.
There is more to it than that ,of course. The three leading lights in Pool B, currently headed by England, are competing almost as much to avoid the All Blacks in the last eight as they are to knock each other out at this early stage.
If the Scots upset their No 3 seeding by ending the Pumas' chance of progressing further they will have done it without their captain, Alastair Kellock, the Glasgow Warriors lock who will be kicking his heels in the stadium known colloquially as the Cake Tin.
To be a captain on the sidelines is an awful experience. Witness the pained expression on the face of the excluded Andy Dalton in the background of David Kirk's trophy-holding photo from the 1987 final. It would be no surprise, too, if Lewis Moody has pushed himself that little bit harder to defy his knee problems and play in this competition, having been being entrusted with the England captain's role.
Dalton started that inaugural tournament injured and was unable to play his way back in, whereas Kellock started this tournament in his expected place in the Scotland XV for the nervy 34-24 win over Romania in Invercargill. He lost it for the subsequent 15-6 defeat of Georgia and has now been omitted again, with no report from the head coach, Andy Robinson, of any subsequent injury.
Richie Gray and Jim Hamilton – to whom Kellock concedes 10kg (22lb) and 5kg respectively – will form the second row, with Nathan Hines covering the back-five positions from the bench. Hamilton of Gloucester will bring his 123kg to bear behind the tight-head prop, Geoff Cross, in the absence of Euan Murray, who is out on his voluntary, religious grounds.
As a coincidental counterpoint, Argentina are glad to be welcoming their captain back to the fold. Felipe Contepomi was last seen tiptoeing off the field in Dunedin with the bruised ribs that restricted him to playing 27 minutes of the 13-9 defeat by England two weeks ago. Bolstered by painkillers, anti-inflammatories and a "small injection of dextrose" he resumes in his 2007 World Cup position of inside centre.
In his absence the Pumas and their riotously vocal support enjoyed a 43-8 win over Romania and if Martin Rodriguez can improve on a woeful 50 per cent kicking success rate, they will fancy their narrow lines of defence to contain the Scots' stated intent to keep the ball in hand.
Scotland have won three of the last four meetings (having lost the previous seven), including a 2-0 series victory in Argentina in June 2010 – when, as it happened, Kellock, not Rory Lawson, was captain and Dan Parks was fly-half. "We'll be pretty confident from recent results," Ruaridh Jackson said after beating Parks to selection this time, "but it will be an extremely tough battle and probably close. I've been picked for trying to get the backs moving but it's about getting the right balance. We've been doing research on what the wind does in the Cake Tin and it's going to play some havoc in the back-field at times."
Having defeated Italy twice, Ireland, Romania and Georgia since March, the Scots are aiming for a sixth successive win for the first time since the Grand Slam-winning season of 1989-90 (when it was Fiji, Romania, Ireland, France, Wales, England). Ross Ford, the Scotland hooker, said: "The standpoint is how we finished against Georgia; we were solid in the set piece and aggressive in defence, in going forward. We've got to keep that there, and raise it even, against Argentina."
Assuming an England win over Romania today, Scotland know that a defeat tomorrow will oblige them to beat their oldest enemy in Auckland on Saturday to go through.
Argentina: M Rodriguez (Stade Français); G Camacho (Exeter), M Bosch (Biarritz), F Contepomi (Stade Français, capt), H Agulla (Leicester); S Fernandez (Montpellier), N Vergallo (Toulouse); R Roncero (Stade Français), M Ledesma (Clermont Auvergne), J Figallo (Montpellier), M Carizza (Biarritz), P Albacete (Toulouse), J Farias Cabello (Tucuman), J Leguizamon (Lyons), J Fernandez Lobbe (Toulon). Replacements: A Creevy (Montpellier),M Scelzo (Agen), M Galarza (unattached), G Fessia (Wasps), A Lalanne (London Irish), L Amorosino (Montpellier), J Imhoff (Duendes).
Scotland: C Paterson (Edinburgh); M Evans (Castres), N De Luca (Edinburgh), G Morrison (Glasgow), S Lamont (Scarlets); R Jackson (Glasgow), R Lawson (Gloucester, capt); A Jacobsen (Edinburgh), R Ford (Edinburgh), G Cross (Edinburgh), R Gray (Glasgow), J Hamilton (Gloucester), A Strokosch (Gloucester), J Barclay (Glasgow), K Brown (Saracens). Replacements: D Hall (Glasgow Warriors), A Dickinson (Sale Sharks), N Hines (Clermont Auvergne), R Vernon (Sale), M Blair (Edinburgh),D Parks (Cardiff Blues), S Danielli (Ulster).
Referee W Barnes (England).Reuse content