Bad blood overshadows France-Argentina play-off

France and Argentina clash on Friday in a World Cup third place play-off overshadowed by simmering French resentment at their opening night shock defeat to the Pumas five weeks ago.

That 17-12 embarrassment threatened to send the hosts’ campaign into freefall before they righted their listing ship with a spectacular quarterfinal win over the All Blacks.

But any hopes of a festival of running rugby at the Parc des Princes to deliver an antidote to the pragmatism of the kicking game have been dashed by a bitter war of words between the two sides.

France fullback Clement Poitrenaud has warned the South Americans to “put up or shut up” in their criticism of a perceived French reluctance to honour their running traditions.

Influential Pumas centre Felipe Contepomi said that France’s reputation for “champagne rugby” was a thing of the past.

“He wants to talk to me about champagne rugby?” said Poitrenaud.

“They have been relying just on mauls and up-and-unders. They need to stop mouthing off.

“The only player capable of champagne rugby in the Argentinian team is [flyhalf] Juan Martin Hernandez.”

Fiery Argentinian skipper Agustin Pichot, who plays his club rugby in France, was having none of it.

“The French cannot criticise us. They have massacred us by claiming that we hadn’t played.
It’s incredible.”

After that opening skirmish, both France and Argentina went on to reach the semifinals, for the first time in the case of the Pumas.

But France’s hopes of making the final were dashed by defending champions England 14-9 while an error-hit Argentinian side were brushed aside by South Africa 37-13.

France coach Bernard Laporte has made nine changes to his team before he steps down to take up a junior post in the French government.

Four of the changes come in the pack with the return of Jean-Baptiste Poux at prop, Lionel Nallet at lock and Yannick Nyanga and Imanol Harinordoquy in the back row. Among the backs, Frederic Michalak takes over at flyhalf with David Skrela—who was the starting flyhalf in their first meeting—at centre, Christophe Dominici and Aurelien Rougerie on the wings and Poitrenaud at fullback.

Damien Traille, who played fullback against England, returns to his more customary centre position.

France will be skippered by Raphael Ibanez in what will be his 98th, and probably last, Test appearance.

Michalak, who started just two games in the tournament, lifted the lid on his rocky relationship with Laporte going into Friday’s game.

“He is a coach, not a friend,” said Michalak.

“When you play rugby you are obliged to play the way the coach wants, whether it pleases you or not. I don’t always agree with what he says, but that’s just the way it is.”

Argentina have made six changes to their team.

In the front row, Rodrigo Roncero keeps his place but fellow prop Martin Scelzo and hooker Mario Ledesma, who started the semifinal, are injured and sit out the match.

Coach Marcelo Loffreda has surprisingly kept Pichot—in what is likely to be the 33-year-old’s last match for Argentina in his fourth World Cup—Hernandez and number eight Gonzalo Longo in the team despite most observers expecting them to be rested.

France have won 30 of the teams’ previous Tests, with Argentina claiming just nine victories. However, four of those have come in the last five meetings.—Sapa-AFP

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