PARIS (AP) — France coach Philippe Saint-Andre expects his team to be fully stretched against a steely Argentina in Saturday's rugby test, even after making a statement by thrashing Australia 33-6.
France recorded its biggest win against the Wallabies since 1976 last weekend. But Argentina showed it learnt much from its debut in the expanded Rugby Championship by beating Six Nations champ Wales 26-12 for only the second time in Cardiff.
"The Argentines were pretty impressive in Cardiff," Saint-Andre said on Thursday after making only one change from the team which routed Australia. "They gave the Welsh a rugby lesson in the second half. They scored two textbook tries.
"It's down to us to play to our strengths, to show the same intensity and speed as we did last week. We did a lot of work on our reactivity, our speed, in Tuesday's training session, and we were more than pleasantly surprised."
Lock Yoann Maestri has returned from a back injury to replace Jocelino Suta in the only change to the team that dominated the Wallabies, with flyhalf Frederic Michalak orchestrating the win and No.8 Louis Picamoles scoring a try to cap dominance in the pack.
"We went for continuity, we don't have much time (to prepare matches)," Saint-Andre said. "We don't want to change the spine of the team for this crucial match. We tried to keep the same balance."
Argentina made three changes, one of them enforced because veteran center Felipe Contepomi is out with a long-term knee injury.
Saint-Andre played down the growing expectations surrounding Michalak, who was for so long out of the side under former coach Marc Lievremont.
"You shouldn't put too much pressure on the flyhalf position," Saint-Andre said. "I wanted to keep Michalak in the team. He played very well last week."
The victory against Australia moved France up one place in the rankings from fifth to provisional fourth and increased its chances of being among the top four seeds for the 2015 World Cup when the draw is made next month — thus avoiding the southern hemisphere favorites in the group stage.
Argentina has won four of the last seven meetings between the sides, including two wins at the 2007 World Cup.
France faced the Pumas twice in June, losing the first test 23-20 in Cordoba and winning the second 49-10 in Tucuman.
"They are very tough to play against, in all of the rucks. They've also grown in maturity as an attacking team," Saint-Andre said. "They will cause us different types of problems than Australia did. The Argentines know us well, a lot of them play in the Top 14."
Pumas coach Santiago Phelan made three changes in the backs and one tactical switch in the forwards.
Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino comes in at fullback for Juan Martin Hernandez, Horacio Agulla replaces Gonzalo Camacho at right wing and Marcelo Bosch steps in for Contepomi at inside center.
Contepomi lasted less than a quarter after damaging knee ligaments in a ruck. He hopes to play again in February and says he isn't ending an international career dating to 1998. If he can play club rugby, he says, he's always available for the Pumas.
"It was a bad injury but it could have been worse. I did my posterior cruciate ligament but at least there's no surgery required," Contepomi said. "I'll be out for three or four months, and hopefully in February or March I'll come back. Hopefully I'll play for the last third of the season for Stade Francais."
Leonardo Senatore is at No. 8 and captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe switches to flanker, in a role reversal from last week.
The match will be at Lille's gleaming 50,000-seat Grand Stade, which was opened in August and is home to Lille's football team.
"Apparently it's a great atmosphere when the roof is closed," Saint-Andre said. "We don't know if the roof will be closed or not, the Argentines have to agree to it."
France: Brice Dulin, Wesley Fofana, Florian Fritz, Maxime Mermoz, Vincent Clerc, Frederic Michalak, Maxime Machenaud; Louis Picamoles, Fulgence Ouedraogo, Yannick Nyanga, Yoann Maestri, Pascal Pape (captain), Nicolas Mas, Dimitri Szarzewski, Yannick Forestier. Reserves: Benjamin Kayser, Thomas Domingo, Vincent Debaty, Jocelino Suta, Damien Chouly, Morgan Parra, Francois Trinh-Duc, Yoann Huget.
Argentina: Lucas Gonzalez Amorosino, Horacio Agulla, Gonzalo Tiesi, Marcelo Bosch, Juan Imhoff, Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo, Leonardo Senatore, Juan Manuel Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain), Julio Farias Cabello, Manuel Carizza, Juan Figallo, Eusebio Guinazu, Marcos Ayerza. Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Nahuel Lobo, Francisco Gomez Kodela, Tomas Vallejos, Tomas De la Vega, Tomas Cubelli, Gonzalo Camacho, Joaquin Tuculet.