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June 25, 2012

Pumas close off June with Les Bleus le response!

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Pumas close off June with Les Bleus le response!

By SANZAR News Service

Argentina and France drew their series this month, and the final heavy 49-10 defeat in Tucuman need not be an ill-portent for a Pumas team that gave many youngsters a serious lesson in test match intensity.

The new entrants to The Rugby Championship defeated Italy 37-22, and at the Estadio Mario Alberto Kempes, had wing Manuel Montero to thank with his try in the 77th minute that gave a very green Argentine side a 23-20 win over France in the opening test of their series against the nation that lost to the All Blacks by a point in last year's Rugby World Cup Final.

French coach Philippe Saint-Andre brought nine new caps over in his Argentinean touring party, and decided to leave captain and flanker Thierry Dusautoir, prop Nicolas Mas and back-rower Imanol Harinordoquy back at home, with some of the World Cup veterans having played a 30 plus match season.

Still, over the half the squad were considered front-liners for the World Cup and the Six Nations, and the first test result was hailed as an upset in some quarters due to this spine of French experience.

Argentina could have called upon more senior players with the European domestic season recently finished, but coach Santiago Phelan made a conscious decision to give players from local leagues in Buenos Aires and other such domestic strongholds time in the test arena, knowing he cannot rely on the 20-odd seniors he can call from Europe alone.

This resulted in absent test experience, with only three players in the match day squad in Tucuman for the second test boasting more than ten caps (prop Eusebio Guinazu, skipper Felipe Contepomi and lock Esteban Lozada).

But squad depth, tactics or preparations for The Rugby Championship were always going to be put on the back burner for an agitated Les Bleus, seeking to break a run of four test losses, with the World Cup runners-up failing to impress in Saint-Andre’s first Six Nations.

Anger may have driven the French pack in their second test win, who showed some of the burly locals that despite the rigours of Argentine local competition, a fired up Les Bleus front eight is considered one of the cornerstones of primeval forward play, and the visitors were relentless with their intent and physicality.

This allowed the French back division to play some champagne rugby as only they know how, and the five tries, including two to dashing winger Yoann Huget, was a vicious response from a team that has remained an enigma, especially after becoming the first team in history to qualify for a World Cup Final with two pool defeats.

Argentina are still something of an unknown entity, with their most recent assembly at full strength last season resulting in a heavy defeat, but that was at the hands of the All Blacks in the quarter-final en route to their second World Cup win.

The Pumas will still be able to call on over a dozen World Cup veterans for The Rugby Championship, while Phelan and the Argentine selection panels will need to assess which of their young performers showed they were capable of taking on the All Blacks, Springboks and Wallabies.

France surpassed their previous highest winning margin against Argentina (47-12, achieved in 1995) while breaking a winless streak in Argentina that stretched back to 1998, but with France in such a relentless mood, few teams would have withstood their graceful yet powerful riposte.

While Argentina waits to see the eventual strength of what is expected to be a vastly more experienced squad for The Rugby Championship, there is still intrigue as to the future of Felipe Contepomi.

Contepomi broke Hugo Porta’s long standing Argentine point’s scoring record during the series, bringing his overall test point’s tally to 628, but it is still unknown on whether or not the great playmaker will be officially retired before The Rugby Championship begins.

He proved against the Azzuri and Les Bleus he still is a masterful navigator and talisman for the side, but there will be other heavy artillery to boost the Pumas before their debut into the Southern Hemisphere’s international showpiece.