TOKYO, 20 Sep – A preview of the Pool C opening match between France and Argentina, which kicks off at 16.15 at Tokyo Stadium.
The Big Picture
France will need no reminding of the last time they met Argentina in a Rugby World Cup match. At France 2007 Los Pumas played party poopers by beating the hosts 17-12 at the Stade de France in the opening fixture and then denied them in the bronze medal match, pictured above, which they won 34-10.
With England clear favourites to win the pool, this is a hugely important match for two sides who go into the tournament after several poor results in 2019. France coach Jacques Brunel said: “The first game is often key. It sets the tone.”
Juan Manuel Leguizamon, the only man from that 2007 Argentina team playing at RWC 2019, will never forget that magical opening night in Paris and his brothers in arms.
"That team made its mark in Argentinian rugby," he said. "They taught me heaps and have left an everlasting mark on me. They were an example of how to set aside our egos and work as one for a common goal."
Twelve years later, though, "we don't talk about 2007", said Leguizamon. "This is a 99 per cent different team with a fresh new chance. We are focused on Saturday’s game."
Brunel’s side won the last meeting between the sides, 28-13 in Lille in November 2018, since then both teams have experienced mixed results.
In the Six Nations, France began by throwing away a 16-0 half-time lead against Wales to lose 24-19 in Paris. A week later England thumped them 44-8. They recovered to beat Scotland, lost against Ireland and at least finished with a 25-14 victory over Italy in Rome.
They won against Scotland and Italy in their warm-up matches, then lost to Scotland in Edinburgh, which raised questions about the team’s state of mind going into RWC 2019 - questions wing Yoann Huget rejected.
"I am not scared of this match," he said. "If we start being scared from the first match, the rest of the competition is going to feel really long.
"It’s a new competition starting after three months of preparation. We want to show that a World Cup is different from the Six Nations or any tours and that this team has talent."
If France have had a poor build-up then Argentina’s has been the stuff of nightmares.
Mario Ledesma’s side slumped to defeat in all four of their Rugby Championship matches with the worst result a 46-13 defeat by South Africa in Salta.
However, 28 players in the Argentina squad were in the Jaguares team that reached the Super Rugby final for the first time. While they lost 19-3 to the Crusaders that experience will stand them in good stead.
France lead 36 wins to 14 since the first match between the two nations in 1949, in Buenos Aires. But in the 21st century, the Pumas have won 10 of 17 fixtures, including those two in the World Cup.
Now, Les Bleus have an extra motivation: they are eager to prove themselves. Damian Penaud said: "No one believes in us. I don't care what they say in France - it drives us to show that we're not losers."
Form guide (most recent matches first)
Head to Head:
Played 50 - France W36, Argentina W14
In the Spotlight
Argentina fly-half Nicolas Sanchez knows French rugby well having played in the Top 14 for Bordeaux, Toulon and now Stade Francais where he has developed into a play-maker capable of setting his team running with his hands or his powerful right boot.
He missed Jaguares run to the Super Rugby final but is right back home as Argentina’s pivot.
"The team still plays a similar game," Sanchez said. "When Jaguares made it to the Super Rugby (final) it was huge and very important, and I merely fell into step."
Racing 92’s powerful centre Virimi Vakatawa has been handed the France inside-centre berth after Clermont Auvergne’s Wesley Fofana was left out through injury.
Maxime Medard plays his first Rugby World Cup match since the New Zealand 2011 final, while in the pack Gregory Alldritt is given the number eight shirt ahead of Louis Picamoles, who was France’s first choice in 2015.
Flanker Pablo Matera will captain Argentina and he will form a back-row trio with number eight Javier Ortega Desio and fellow flanker Marcos Kremer.
In front of them in the second-row Guido Petti will win his 50th cap, while Agustin Creevy, Juan Figallo and Nicolas Sanchez will all appear in a third World Cup.
Stats and Trivia
Argentina are one of four teams that France have a losing record against at the Rugby World Cup (W1, L3). The other three are New Zealand, South Africa and England.
Romain Ntamack is the son of Émile Ntamack, who featured for France at wing and centre in 11 RWC matches in 1995 and 1999. He started at inside-centre in the 1999 final, which France lost 35-12 to Australia.
"We know the qualities of the Argentinians, their progress, especially since we met them recently. We've prepared well, we're going to give it all, try and put them in danger. But we might have to consider the weather." – France coach Jacques Brunel (FRA).
"I played with Gael Fickou (FRA) and Paul Gabrillagues (FRA), and shared a year with them. I also spent time with Baptiste Serin and Mathieu Bastareaud." – Argentina fly-half Nicolas Sanchez.