Preview: Italy v Argentina
There is one last chance of redemption for Argentina, when they play Italy in Rome on Saturday.
The Pumas have recorded one solitary win in 2013, against lowly Georgia back in June. They have lost all their games against teams rated in the top 10 on the IRB rankings – England (three times), South Africa, New Zealand and Australia (twice each – all in the Rugby Championship).
And then there was last week's humiliating 6-40 reverse at the hands of Wales.
In contrast, the Azzurri can boast victories over France and Ireland this year, while they are fresh from last week's win over Fiji.
To further complicate matters for the Argentineans, player release issues forced new coach Daniel Hourcade into changes.
The Pumas will be without first-choice centres Marcelo Bosch and Santiago Fernandez and lock Patricio Albacete due to an agreement between their European clubs and Argentina.
The players have been with the Pumas since August, taking part in the Southern Hemisphere showpiece, the Rugby Championship, but will miss their year-end finale.
Despite having beaten Argentina just twice in their last 10 encounter, the last victory back in 2008, the Azzurri is confident enough to allow some room for experimentation.
Italian coach Jacques Brunel has handed former Scotland Under-20 player Tommaso Allan his first Test start. The Italian-born Allan, who made an appearances of the replacement bench last week, is one of three changes for the clash against the Pumas at the Olympic Stadium.
The 20-year-old Perpignan replaces Luciano Orquera, who drops to the bench, with Michele Campagnaro starting at outside centre in place of veteran Gonzalo Canale. Canale moves to inside centre to replace Luca Morisi, who has undergone surgery to remove his spleen after a heavy tackle early in the win over Fiji.
Robert Barbieri comes back into Brunel's starting XV at openside flank, replacing Mauro Bergamasco who is not included in the matchday squad.
Both No.8 and captain Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni will start, meaning the pair will pick up their 101st caps for Italy to pull level with retired scrumhalf Alessandro Troncon.
Retired prop Andrea Lo Cicero holds the record for Italy's most caps on 103.
Pumas coach Daniel Hourcade moved left wing Horacio Agulla into Bosch's outside centre position. Hourcade has brought Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino back into the side on the right wing while Gabriel Azcarate takes the inside centre berth left vacant by Fernandez to make up an untested midfield partnership with Agulla.
Juan Imhoff, injured in Argentina's 12-31 defeat by England two weeks ago, returns to the left wing with Santiago Cordero, who made his first Pumas start against the Welsh, stepping back down to the bench.
Bosch has returned to Saracens and Fernandez to Bayonne in France, while in the forwards, lock Mariano Galarza comes in for Albacete, who has gone back to Toulouse.
In the back row, Benjamin Macome comes in at No.8 with Pablo Matera dropping down to the bench and captain Juan Manuel Leguizamon moving to blindside flank.
Despite their favourites tag, Brunel insists that the Azzurri will face a big challenge from their South American rivals.
"We need to produce a good game and a victory," Brunel said, adding: "If we lose, we can not speak of a positive year-end campaign."
The inclusion of Allan, according to Brunel, is part of the build-up to the 2015 World Cup.
"I want to evaluate the potential of all the players," the Italian coach said.
"We only have twenty games until the World Cup in 2015 and we can not wait too long to try young players. We need to increase our squad's depth and now is the time to do it."
Players to watch:
For Italy: The two veterans – captain Sergio Parisse and prop Martin Castrogiovanni – always give their best and one wonders what their status as international players would have been had they played for more prominent and successful teams. Of course you will also want to see how young Tommaso Allan copes in his first Test start at flyhalf.
For Argentina: The untested centre combination of Horacio Agulla and Gabriel Ascárate will no doubt find themselves in the spotlight. Flyhalf Nicolás Sánchez is a key player, as is captain Juan Manuel Leguizamón, now on the flank, where he may just be more effective.
Head to head: Both teams are known for their slow, structured forward-based games. The most intriguing of these battles may just be the scrums where six grizzled veterans – Martin Castrogiovanni, Leonardo Ghiraldini and Michele Rizzo of Italy against Argentina's Maximiliano Bustos, Eusebio Guiñazú and Marcos Ayerza – will square off.
2012: Argentina won 37-22, San Juan
2010: Argentina won 22-16, Verona
2008: Argentina won 22-14, Torino
2008: Italy won 13-12, Cordoba
2007: Argentina won 24-6, Mendoza
2006: Argentina won 23-16, Rome
2005: Argentina won 39-22, Genoa
2005: Italy won 30-29, Cordoba
2005: Argentina won 35-21, Salta
2002: Argentina won 36-6, Rome
Prediction: Italy will not get a better chance to knock claim their third big scalp in one year. Yes, Argentina are only ranked 10th, but they remain a quality side and victory will see the 11th-placed Azzurri move past the Pumas into the top 10. Of course Argentina can win, but we feel Italy will pull off a rare win – by less than 10 points.
Italy: 15 Luke McLean, 14 Giovambattista Venditti, 13 Michele Campagnaro, 12 Gonzalo Canale, 11 Tommaso Iannone, 10 Tommaso Allan, 9 Edoardo Gori, 8 Sergio Parisse (captain), 7 Robert Barbieri, 6 Alessandro Zanni, 5 Valerio Bernabo, 4 Quintin Geldenhuys, 3 Martin Castrogiovanni, 2 Leonardo Ghiraldini, 1 Michele Rizzo.
Replacements: 16 Davide Giazzon, 17 Matias Aguero, 18 Lorenzo Cittadini, 19 Marco Bortolami, 20 Joshua Furno, 21 Tobias Botes, 22 Luciano Orquera, 23 Tommaso Benvenuti.
Argentina: 15 Joaquín Tuculet, 14 Lucas González Amorosino, 13 Horacio Agulla, 12 Gabriel Ascárate, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolás Sánchez, 9 Martín Landajo, 8 Benjamín Macome, 7 Julio Farías Cabello, 6 Juan Manuel Leguizamón (captain), 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Eusebio Guiñazú, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Iglesias Valdez, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Matías Díaz, 19 Tomás Lavanini, 20 Pablo Matera, 21 Tomás Cubelli, 22 Javier Rojas, 23 Santiago Cordero.
Date: Saturday, November 23
Venue: Stadio Olimpico, Rome
Kick-off: 15.00 (14.00 GMT; 11.00 Argentina time)
Expected weather: Rain in the morning will make way for sunny spells in the afternoon, with a high of 14°C and a low of 6°C
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), JP Doyle (England)
TMO: Gareth Simmonds (Wales)