Preview: Argentina v France

Argentina will look to continue where they left off against Italy last weekend when they face France in Tucumán on Sunday.

With more than 90 percent of their squad made up of players who ply their trade with the newly-formed Jaguares in Super Rugby, los Pumas did well to claim a deserved 30-24 triumph over a gutsy Azzurri side in Santa Fé.

Argentina's hero in that clash, and the man who will be expected to steer their ship against les Bleus in the first of two Tests in Tucumán, is fly-half Nicolás Sánchez.

The Jaguares stalwart was in fine form against Italy kicking 20 points, via six penalties and a conversion, but his general play was also impressive and played a leading role in setting up both his side's tries in that encounter.

Argentina have gained a reputation as an attacking team under head coach Daniel Hourcade and after their heroics at the Rugby World Cup, where they reached the semi-finals, they are now a genuine force at Test level and are currently in fifth place in the World Rugby Rankings.

France head coach Guy Novès heads into this clash on the back-foot as several of his first-choice players will not be in action. This is because the Top 14 semi-finals – involving Clermont and Racing 92 on Friday, and Toulon and Montpellier on Saturday – takes place this weekend.

The final is scheduled to take place next weekend which means Novès will be able to call up players from the losing semi-finalists but he will still be without players involved in the final.

France will have plenty to prove after a less than satisfactory Six Nations campaign. They finished in fifth position after suffering defeats to England, Wales and Scotland and although they are in Argentina with an under-strength squad, several players will be keen to make an impression on Novès with fine individual performances.

With first-choice captain Guilhem Guirado involved in Toulon's Top 14 semi-final with Montpellier, Novès has handed the captaincy to fly-half Jules Plisson and the coach believes the added responsibility could bring out the best in the 24-year-old. 

"He plays in a position where he must manage the game," Novès told AFP.

"He is also part of the future project (build-up to 2019 World Cup). He has a good head on his shoulders and he will be captain for the first Test."

Although France have dominated this fixture over the years – they've won 34 of the previous 48 encounters with Argentina victorious on 13 occasions and one Test being drawn – Argentina have not disgraced themselves in recent years, winning five of the last 10 Tests which includes a memorable win at the Stade de France in their previous fixture in 2014.

Players to Watch

For Argentina: Keep an eye on exciting number eight Facundo Isa, who has been one of the standout performers during a disappointing Jaguares Super Rugby campaign. Isa is an impressive ball carrier and is expected to get the home side over the advantage line from the base of the scrum but is also superb at the breakdown and should make a big impact in this facet of play.

For France: Although los Pumas have gained a reputation as strong scrummagers over the years, in Rabah Slimani les Bleus have one of the game's most powerful props. The Stade Français stalwart seldom takes a backward step at the set-piece and another solid display in this department should give his side much needed momentum.

Head-to-head: The fly-half battle between Nicolás Sánchez and Jules Plisson is expected to be one of the game's highlights and whoever comes out on top in this duel is set to be on the winning side as well. Sánchez's superb allround performance against Italy will make him a marked man this weekend. The Jaguares pivot was his side's best player in Santa Fé and he'll look to build on that effort with another fine allround showing. Plisson is highly rated in France and was their first-choice pivot in most of the Six Nations matches earlier this year. When on song, his kicking – from the tee and out of hand – is impressive and he also possesses fine attacking skills which will be needed to unlock the home side's defence.

Prediction: Although Argentina weren't at their best last weekend, they did well to get the win against Italy and will have too much firepower for les Bleus. Argentina to win by seven points. 

Previous results:
Argentina won 18-13 in Saint-Denis
2012: France won 39-22 in Lille
2012: France won 49-10 in Tucumán
2012: Argentina won 23-20 in Córdoba
2010: France won 15-9 in Montpellier 
2010: Argentina won 41-13 in Buenos Aires
2008: France won 12-6 in Marseille 
2007: Argentina won 34-10 in Paris 
2007: Argentina won 17-10 in Paris 
2006: France won 27-26 in Paris
2004: Argentina won 24-14 in Marseilles 
2003: Argentina won 33-32 in Buenos Aires
2003: Argentina won 10-6 in Buenos Aires
2002: Argentina won 28-27 in Buenos Aires

The teams:

Argentina (squad): Facundo Bosch, Santiago Cordero, Agustín Creevy, Tomás Cubelli, Jerónimo De la Fuente, Santiago García Botta, Lucas González Amorosino, Santiago González Iglesias, Martín Hernández, Ramiro Herrera, Facundo Isa, Martín Landajo, Ignacio Larrague, Tomás Lavanini, Juan Manuel Leguizamón, Tomás Lezana, Pablo Lezana, Manuel Montero, Julián Montoya, Matías Moroni, Ramiro Moyano, Matías Orlando, Desio Ortega, Guido Petti, Enrique Pieretto, Nicolás Sánchez, Chaparro Tetaz, Joaquín Tuculet.

France: 15 Hugo Bonneval, 14 Xavier Mignot, 13 Julien Rey, 12 Jonathan Danty, 11 Djibril Camara, 10 Jules Plisson (c), 9 Baptiste Serin, 8 Kevin Gourdon, 7 Raphaël Lakafia, 6 Loann Goujon, 5 William Demotte, 4 Julien Ledevedec, 3 Rabah Slimani, 2 Rémi Bonfils, 1 Jefferson Poirot 
Replacements: 16 Clément Maynadier, 17 Uini Atonio, 18 Lucas Pointud, 19 Fabrice Metz, 20 Louis Picamoles, 21 Sébastien Bézy, 22 François Trinh-Duc, 23 Gaël Fickou

Date: Sunday, June 19
Venue: Estadio Monumental José Fierro, Tucumán
Kick-off: 18:10 local (21:10 GMT)
Referee: Johnny Lacey (Ireland)
Assistant Referees: Stuart Berry (South Africa), Luke Pearce (England)
TMO: Johan Greeff (South Africa)