Preview: France v Argentina
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: Pumas coach Mario Ledesma and former France star Fabien Galthie, now in the Les Bleus coaching set-up, have a feisty personal history.
That will add extra spice to Saturday’s France versus Argentina clash at the World Cup.
Ledesma spent 13 years plying his trade in France, first as a player then a coach, until his stay came to an abrupt end in 2014 after a row with Galthie, then his boss at Montpellier.
After a brief coaching stint in Paris with Stade Francais, Ledesma arrived at the southern French club in 2012 to take up a position as Galthie’s deputy – but relations between the pair quickly turned sour.
A very different management style and an awkward power struggle between the boss and the deputy created a powder keg atmosphere at the club, explained Thibaut Privat, a former international lock close to Ledesma.
“Fabien’s management style did not chime with Mario’s philosophy. When we got into difficulty in the autumn in 2014, there were a couple of problems. That’s when the disagreements between them started to be voiced more loudly,” Privat told AFP.
It came to a head on November 7, 2014, after a shock 10-25 home defeat to Brive.
Behind closed dressing room doors, some uncomfortable home truths were told. Arguments broke out between players and coaches amid mounting tension between Galthie and Ledesma.
The row culminated in a physical confrontation between Ledesma and hooker Charles Geli.
Things had to change and billionaire Montpellier president Mohed Altrad decided it was Ledesma that had to take the fall. Galthie, meanwhile, distanced himself from his former deputy.
“I can understand that Mario took it badly that Fabien failed to stick by him,” said Privat, who was playing for Montpellier at the time.
“It is a surprise to see the deputy kicked out instead of the head coach. Often, it is the latter that is sacrificed,” said Privat.
In the event, Galthie himself left the crisis-hit Montpellier at the end of the year.
‘These things count’
As for Ledesma, he went on to join current Wallabies coach Michael Cheika, first at the Waratahs, then the national side. He returned to his native Argentina in 2018 to coach the Pumas and Super Rugby franchise the Jaguares.
His in-depth inside knowledge of France and French rugby is seen as a plus ahead of the crunch Pool C clash which could see the losers struggling to get out of the ‘group of death’ that also includes England.
Los Pumas flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez told AFP in an interview: “He has played many games against them and he knows how they prepare, what they have in their heads before this type of game.”
“He’s worked with Galthie. All these things count,” added Sanchez.
Ledesma told reporters at a pre-match press conference: “I don’t know if we will bump into each other or not.”
“I think we will both be in the stands. But I don’t know if we will see each other before or after the match.”
The post-match handshake will be one to watch.
Players to watch
For France: Toulouse young guns Romain Ntamack and Antoine Dupont will start at halfback. Brunel opted for goal-kicker Ntamack, 20, over Camille Lopez, while 22-year-old Dupont starts at scrumhalf, the experienced Maxime Machenaud beating out Baptiste Serin for a place on the bench. Fiji-born Virimi Vakatawa slots into the centre alongside Gael Fickou, with Wesley Fofana out injured.
For Argentina: Stade Francais flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez will pull the strings for Los Pumas. Sanchez has a ream of French experience, having also played for Stade’s Top 14 rivals Bordeaux-Begles and Toulon over four seasons, before linking up briefly with the Jaguares in Super Rugby. Argentina will be skippered by marauding flank Pablo Matera in a strong-looking pack that sees Saracens’ Juan Figallo starting at tighthead prop. The third player in Argentina’s 31-man squad attached to a club outside the South American country is also included, as coach Pablo Ledesma named goal-kicking Castres playmaker Benjamin Urdapilleta on the bench.
Head to head
There are several intriguing face-offs across the park, but perhaps none as great as at flyhalf – young Romain Ntamack (France) against veteran Nicolas Sanchez (Argentina). The set pieces battle will also be crucial, especially the scrums – where Rabah Slimani, Guilhem Guirado and Jefferson Poirot (France) will test the rickety front row of Juan Figallo, Agustin Creevy and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro (Argentina).
Last 12 results
Bookmakers are struggling to separate the two teams, with the unpredictable French getting a narrow two-point handicap (a single score difference) from most outlets. This is a crucial match for both sides, as the loser will be odds on favourite to go home after the pool stage. It is a tough one to call with the sides evenly matched, but we suggest Argentina will edge the game by five points.
France: 15 Maxime Medard, 14 Damian Penaud, 13 Gael Fickou, 12 Virimi Vakatawa, 11 Yoann Huget, 10 Romain Ntamack, 9 Antoine Dupont, 8 Gregory Alldritt, 7 Charles Ollivon, 6 Wenceslas Lauret, 5 Sebastien Vahaamahina, 4 Arthur Iturria, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Guilhem Guirado (captain), 1 Jefferson Poirot.
Replacements: 16 Camille Chat, 17 Cyril Baille, 18 Demba Bamba, 19 Bernard Le Roux, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Maxime Machenaud, 22 Camille Lopez, Thomas Ramos
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo de la Fuente, 11 Ramiro Moyano, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Agustin Creevy, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 23 Santiago Carreras.
Date: Saturday, September 21
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 16.15 (04.15 Argentina time; 07.15 GMT; 09.15 France time)
Expected weather: Mostly cloudy, occasional rain. High of 23°C and a low of 18°C
Referee: Angus Gardner (Australia)
Assistant referees: Jaco Peyper (South Africa), Brendon Pickerill (New Zealand)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)