England’s tour of South America begins in Montevideo, Uruguay where a South America XV await. The team, made up of players from the member nations of the Confederación Sudamericana de Rugby (CONSUR), will provide England with a decent warm-up ahead of their two tests against Argentina. Stuart Lancaster will be hoping his young charges can show the same intensity and professionalism they did against the Barbarians at Twickenham last week. Whereas the Baa-Baas consisted of established and experienced players, the CONSUR XV ensemble display a youthful and ambitious look.
Despite this fixture being nothing more than an exhibition, England will be expected to treat this game like any other Test. It is easy to presume England will dominate in most, if not all, facets of the game given the calibre of the opposition but with Tom Wood joining up with the squad and attaining the role of captain, the Northampton flanker will be eager to ensure England’s set-pieces are up to scratch and lay the foundations for the Argentina Tests. Christian Wade and Marland Yarde captured the headlines at HQ last week whilst Billy Twelvetrees and Freddie Burns ran the show in the middle.
Burns, with only one cap to his name, will be keen to show Lancaster he is capable of challenging the absent Own Farrell for the number 10 role. Twelvetrees will also want to display why he should be the long term inside centre. The threat he provides in attack is countered by the industry in defence of Brad Barritt, another absentee. Another player with a point to prove is Gloucester-bound flanker Matt Kvesic. Regarded as a bona fide openside, Kvesic gives Lancaster a genuine rival at seven to Tom Wood and this match will give him some idea as to what tools he has at his disposal come the World Cup in 2015.
Key Player: Freddie Burns
After a decent cameo against New Zealand last Autumn and solid management of his backs against the Barbarians, Burns is the man to watch as he embarks on his quest to challenge Owen Farrell for the fly-half spot. A reliable kicker with an intelligent passing game, his familiarity with Twelvetrees from Gloucester showed promising signs of translating onto the international stage at Twickenham last week and should provide the likes of Wade and Yarde plenty of service.
Argentina and Uruguay provide the largest contribution to the 23-man squad tasked to face England. 11 from Argentina, ten from Uruguay with the other two coming from Chile and Brazil, the squad’s average age barely scrapes over 25-years old and this fixture is seen a good chance for some young prospects to come up against top-tier opposition and gain some invaluable experience. Six of the Argentinian contingent for this game are part of Argentina’s 28-man squad for the England’s tests. They will be tasked with giving feedback to head coach Santiago Phelan, and give him some idea as to what he can expect come the first Test.
Among those six is Bellisario Agulla. The younger brother of Bath wing Horacio Agulla, Bellisario, also a winger, plies his trade in France with Agen and has already proved prolific in his fledgling international career with five tries in six caps for Los Pumas. Juan Pablo Socino has re-signed for RFU Championship side Rotherham Titans for the upcoming 2013-14 season. The centre amassed an incredible 278 points for the Titans in the 2010-11 season, a club record. At 25 years old, it is only a matter of time before he makes his Argentina debut.
Key player: Mario Sagario
With 30 Uruguay caps to his name, Sagario will provide a decent test for the English front-row and is one of the most experienced players amongst the CONSUR squad. In front of a home crowd, he will want to make sure he and his nine fellow countrymen put on a spirited display. With what is likely to be an all-Uruguayan front-row, with Alejo Corral and Oscar Duran, Sagario will look to establish the scrum as a platform for any potential success.
England should have no problem in this one. Much like the Barbarians game, intensity will be high and while this is a warm-up, plenty of the squad have a chance to stake a claim for a place in the first Test. That motivation alone is enough for England to coast to victory. England by 25.
By Richard Elkins (@richelkins)