France looking to attacking style of play vs. Pumas at RWC
TOKYO (AP) — France coach Jacques Brunel thinks he knows how to beat Argentina — impose an attacking style of play early on and then batter the Pumas with experienced players when they start tiring.
The sides meet in their Rugby World Cup opener in Tokyo on Saturday, with victory potentially crucial in qualifying from a tough Pool C containing former champion England.
Rather than unwisely take on Argentina in a battle of attrition, Brunel wants France to produce an attacking game with 20-year-old Romain Ntamack scheming from flyhalf and pacey 22-year-old Grégory Alldritt making darting runs at No. 8. They have just 15 caps between them, but were chosen over far more experienced players.
"We're going to try to put into place a style of play which causes them problems. We have potential and quality in our squad," Brunel said Thursday. "A good number of the players are young and only have a few caps. But with the qualities that Alldritt has shown, it's no surprise to see him in the starting lineup."
Ntamack, the son of former France winger Émile Ntamack, was selected over Camille Lopez to combine in the halves with Antoine Dupont.
Even though Ntamack usually plays his club rugby at center, Brunel has "no doubts" he can organize France's attack.
"It's no surprise. We know that Romain feels at ease playing there. He's shown that he's not scared to play there. He will also take on the kicking duties," the head coach said, adding that the choice was also made to try to punish Argentina later in the game. "We think that using Romain early in the match and Camille Lopez at the end is more satisfactory."
Brunel made another tactical pick at the base of the scrum in preferring the more mobile Alldritt — who has three tries — to veteran Louis Picamoles, who is appearing in his third World Cup.
Maxime Médard starts at fullback ahead of Thomas Ramos, who was selected among the reserves with Lopez and Picamoles. With Wesley Fofana injured, former rugby sevens winger Virimi Vakatawa will start at center alongside Gaël Fickou.
"This match against the Pumas could be very tight, so that's why we decided to put a lot of experienced players on the bench," Brunel said. "Our thinking is that the game will probably be close and the second half decisive. We therefore preferred to choose experimented players for the second half."
Rabah Slimani and Jefferson Poirot will start in the front row, as expected, on either side of hooker and captain Guilhem Guirado.
Both teams have points to prove, in a Pool which also contains Tonga and the United States.
Coached by former standout hooker Mario Ledesma, two-time semifinalist Argentina has to stop a losing streak reaching 10 straight games since winning in Australia in last year's Rugby Championship. The Pumas came close to beating New Zealand for the first time and narrowly lost to Australia in the same tournament this season.
Three-time runner-up France has been on a downward slope after years of mediocrity, punctuated by a home loss to Fiji, a walloping 44-8 defeat away to England and one top-three finish in the Six Nations since losing the World Cup final in 2011.
A lot hangs on France beating Argentina, then.
"But if you look back to 2011, with two losses France still got to the final," France winger Yoann Huget said. "Anything can happen in this competition, that's what is beautiful about it."
Lineout specialist Guido Petti was selected to make his 50th appearance for Argentina at lock but Ledesma left out experienced backrower Juan Manuel Leguizamon, who is one short of equaling former center Felipe Contepomi's Pumas' record of 87 test appearances.
France lost the 2007 third-place match to Argentina but won their previous encounter, 28-13 in November, and won 27-0 away in 2016.
Argentina will doubtless be confident of winning the midfield battles, and that France's attacking rucks are an ongoing weakness.
Argentina's flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez — Fickou's club teammate at Stade Français — will have a big part to play.
"(If) we're aggressive and if we manage to control him, we'll have controlled 50 percent of their team," Fickou said.
France: Maxime Médard, Damian Penaud, Gaël Fickou, Virimi Vakatawa, Yoann Huget, Romain Ntamack, Antoine Dupont; Grégory Alldritt, Charles Ollivon, Wenceslas Lauret, Sebastien Vahaamahina, Arthur Iturria, Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado (captain), Jefferson Poirot. Reserves: 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, Nicolás Sánchez, Tomás Cubelli; Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera (captain), Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Juan Figallo, Agustín Creevy, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro. Reserves: Julian Montoya, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Felipe Ezcurra, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Santiago Carreras.