Eyebrows raised around the rugby world last Sunday as Argentina claimed the scalp of France in Tucumán by a score of 30-19. The game was the first of a two-match tour for Les Bleus; however, there was much more to this defeat than the final tally suggests.
Whether France misplanned their tour slightly or timed it perfectly is debatable. With Racing and Toulon still to face off at Camp Nou this coming Friday for the French title, the French squad is missing a large number of key players for their trip to Argentina. As they knew this well in advance, it might seem like bad timing; however, the upside of it is that they get to test out some new players.
With six players in the starting line up getting their first cap and a seventh coming off the bench in the second half, as well as a squad that has an average age of just 25, coach Guy Noves really took this chance to try out some new faces.
On top of that, most of the players in this squad have less than 20 caps for Les Blues. The consequence of which is that they are very inexperienced at international level and have played little rugby together. This included the debutant scrum-half Baptiste Serin, who had a great game even though he had not played with fly-half Jules Plisson before.
In contrast, the Argentinian side should probably have been named Los Jaguares instead of the Pumas. It was a side that was clearly settled and comfortable playing together. With off loads left, right and centre, it was clear they knew how to find each other. France, simply, did not.
And neither did France really have much chance to get into any sort of pattern. To their credit, while they themselves were not able to play a structured game, they did not give Argentina a chance to do this either. The match was as scrappy as Scooby Doo’s little nephew.
The Argentinians, in the past so dominant in the pack, did not have the muscle to outplay the French in this particular area and so relied on their backs. The French tried to keep the game tight – so they could use their forwards – but failed at their objective.
This should actually worry the Pumas. They have always been very dominant in the forwards, and taken pride in their solid scrum; however, this seemed to disintegrate on this occasion. In contrast, their back line has clearly benefited from the inclusion in Super Rugby as well as from the Sevens game. They were both creative and lightning fast.
France, for their part, also failed to capitalise on a man advantage after a repeated infringement close to their own try line cost Argentina a yellow card. Worse than that, just as those ten minutes were up, Bordeaux – Begles prop Jefferson Poirot deliberately knocked on and France then spent the next ten minutes a man down. This indiscipline cost them dearly, with Argentina making the crucial difference in this 10-minute spell.
However, given that the French team on display was an invitational side compared to the established Pumas they played against, they can hold their heads up high. If they can make their incredible dominance in the forwards count in next week’s encounter, they have a serious chance of beating one of the top four sides of the last World Cup this coming weekend with some of their next generation of stars leading the charge. And, when they meet the Welsh, they can also claim they have beaten a Super Rugby side this year.
Paul Peerdeman, Pundit Arena