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France host Pumas as Johnson leads the Red Rose

Text by AFP

Latest update : 2008-11-09

France host their nemesis Argentina on Saturday in a weekend packed with international fixtures. Elsewhere, the former World Cup winning captain Martin Johnson takes charge of England for the first time as they face the Pacific Islanders.

Rugby rivalries run deep and here on Saturday France will take on one of their real bogey teams Argentina looking to record only their second win in seven matches against the Pumas.
Adding to the spice to the match is the fact that former France captain Fabien Galthie and a one-time candidate for the France coaching post - to replace Bernard Laporte after he stood down after the 2007 World Cup - has taken on a role as an advisor for the Argentinians while in the French camp there is former Pumas kicker Gonzalo Quesada acting as kicking coach.
However, France head coach Thomas Lievremont insists that despite Galthie's 'defection' there are no hard feelings.
"It is not a case of Marc Lievremont against Fabien Galthie, it is France against Argentina," commented Lievremont, who was to many a surprise choice as coach as Galthie had experienced a successful spell with giants Stade Francais.
"There is respect between us, I know that he is a competent coach and a big plus for the Argentinian backroom staff.
"I can't really criticise him in any case because we have David Ellis (defence coach) who is English and Gonzalo Quesada (kicking coach) who is Argentinian.
"We have crossed paths and discussed various players and the France team. We have known each other for 20 years, we were students together and team-mates with France."
Galthie for his part is also playing a straight bat, though, many believe that it is no coincidence he has taken the job for what is seen as one of the big grudge matches in international rugby.
"For the moment, I am not thinking too much about the match," said Galthie earlier this week.
"This is a test match but my future does not depend on the result. This is a series of tests, and the players and the backroom staff are working towards responding to the overall results (they play tests against Italy and Ireland as well)," added Galthie, who was IRB player of the year in 2002.
Lievremont, who was part of the team that reached the 1999 World Cup final, has gone against type and selected a squad that has relatively familiar faces given his penchant during the Six Nations to overhaul all his squads which led to them finishing third and the former flanker having to deny he had shown a lack of respect to the tournament.
A lot of eyes will be focused on yet another product of the Toulouse system in fullback Maxime Medard as the precocious 21-year-old will win his first cap, but while he will be tested by the Pumas kicking game there are high expectations of him.
The French staff, though, are clear about their target for the three autumn tests - which also include the unpredictable Pacific Islands and Australia.
"We know Argentina are a team brimming with talent and difficult to move around," said backs coach Emile Ntamack.
"But we prefer to focus on us, our capability of playing and, working in the little time we have, on our gameplan.
"The goal is clear: three wins."
Argentina - who have lost their last three matches - meanwhile field many players who ply their trade in France and most controversially Stade Francais prop Rodrigo Roncero, who is only playing because he has appealed against a 30 days suspension imposed earlier this week for brutal play.
However, Argentina coach Santiago Phelan preferred to look at the match in a broader context than just the selection of Roncero.
"These are two new teams under new stewardship. It will be a tough match and we go into it affording the utmost respect to French rugby. No one is favourite," said Phelan.


World Cup hero Johnson leads the Red Rose


Martin Johnson takes charge of England for the first time on Saturday and the former World Cup winning captain has declared his new-look side to be in good shape for their clash with the Pacific Islanders.
Critics have suggested Johnson was rushed into the job too early in his coaching career but he believes the team he has around him are good enough to make up for any shortfall in his own experience.
"I think we are in a good place. Our coaching is some of the best I have been associated with," Johnson said on the eve of the match.
"You are always learning. There are always situations you encounter every day which are new. You have that as a player and you have that as a manager.
"We have experienced coaches around us. The people here, the physios and medics and fitness guys, have been around a long time and experienced lots of things.
"You rely on them. I am not isolated in that sense and the elite department back at Twickenham have provided everything we have wanted in terms of back up."
The English RFU recruited Johnson after deciding to replace Brian Ashton as England head coach following the Six Nations earlier this year.
Despite his lack of experience, Johnson said he had not hestitated over accepting the role.
"A lot of people said 'You have a lot to risk with your reputation' - but if you live the rest of your life like that, you will never do anything.
"I had a fantastic opportunity, one I never thought I would get at this stage if at all. I would have regretted letting it go by."
England centre Jamie Noon said Johnson had already made a big impression on the players because of his knowledge of the game.
"He is not a novice, quite the opposite," Noon said. "When we first met up I think everybody was conscious of how Johnno would be and how he would react but he has just taken it in his stride.
"It does seem like he has been doing it a long, long time. He has a real empathy for the players and the coaches. He seems to be able to marry a great balance between the two."

Date created : 2008-11-08