Argentina welcome England to Salta for the first meeting in a two-match series. It is the first clash between the two sides since England narrowly defeated Argentina 13-9 in Dunedin, New Zealand during the 2011 World Cup pool stages. However, England weren’t so fortunate on their last visit to Salta where they were edged out 24-22 courtesy of tries from Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Gonzalo Camacho while Juan Martín Hernandez contributed 14 points from the boot. While both sides have differing agendas throughout the coming months, this series is a good test for some young talent looking to make an impact at the highest level.
Stuart Lancaster has handed wing Christian Wade and flanker Matt Kvesic their test debuts in what is a young but promising line-up. Following a superb season with Wasps, which included various personal accolades, Wade will be given the chance to display his ability at test level following an impressive performance in the win over the Barbarians at Twickenham in May. Worcester’s Matt Kvesic will make his debut at openside flanker, a position he will be ferociously challenging the resting Chris Robshaw for. On the bench, Bath centre Kyle Eastmond, Sale prop Henry Thomas and Wasps back row Billy Vunipola could earn their first test caps should they enter proceedings.
With several regulars either away on Lions duty or resting, Lancaster has thrown down the gauntlet to the likes of Freddie Burns, who starts at fly-half, and starting outside centre, Jonathan Joseph to prove their mettle in the absence of high-profile names. Ben Morgan returns at number 8 after injury saw him miss most of the Six Nations this year despite Billy Vunipola making a strong case for himself after scoring a six-minute hat-trick against Consur XV last week. And with Alex Corbisiero being summoned by Warren Gatland as cover for the injured Cian Healy, Joe Marler has a real chance to stake a claim for the loosehead role. All in all, this squad could herald the introduction of some regular England starters for years to come and Lancaster et al will be eager to see how this young side perform.
Key player: Christian Wade
It’s hard to ignore a talent like Wade when looking at England’s starting XV and the young wing will be champing at the bit to impress Lancaster, especially given Chris Ashton’s recent England performances being far from stellar. A genuine attacking threat from any situation.
Santiago Phelan has given the retiring Felipe Contepomi the captaincy for what will be the swan song to a fantastic career. Starting at inside centre, Contepomi, with 79 caps, is an experienced head among what is a largely young and unproven line-up, highlighted by Argentina’s front row only having 12 caps between them. The reasons for the presence of such players are twofold: first and foremost, several key players are being rested ahead of the Rugby Championship which begins in August. Among them are stalwarts like Toulon back row forward Juan Martín Fernandez Lobbe, Toulouse lock Patricio Albacete and Bath wing Horacio Agulla. The other is the chance to give these players valuable experience against Northern Hemisphere opposition. Among those hoping to impress is former Harlequins fly-half Benjamin Urdapilleta who, in the absence of Juan Martín Hernandez and Nicolas Sanchez, has been given the platform to challenge for the coveted number 10 shirt. With one eye on the Rugby Championship, Santiago Phelan sees this game and the series as a whole as an opportunity to blood some new talent against some stern opposition and with the chance to impress, we could discover some new stars.
Key player: Felipe Contepomi
In what could be his final professional appearance, Contepomi will want to finish on a high. Pulling the strings from inside centre, the former Leinster man will look to spur his young teammates on to what he hopes will be a fitting end. Although no longer a long-term option, Contepomi’s experience during and between matches during this series will be welcomed by the Argentinian squad.
Despite not winning in Argentina since 1997, the inexperience of Los Pumas should see a young and hungry England side over the line. However, Argentina’s young guns have just as much a point to prove and will give England a stern test. Joe Marler, Rob Webber and Dave Wilson will look to overpower what is an inexperienced opposing front row and could prove the foundation for a hard-fought win. England by 5.
By Rich Elkins (@richelkins)