ENGLAND will face Argentina’s strongest possible side in their crunch World Cup opener in Dunedin on Saturday, according to Pumas coach Santiago Phelan.
The shock semi-finalists in France four years ago are rated as underdogs, despite being ranked the top seeds in Pool B, but their line-up will be enhanced by the presence of outside centre Gonzalo Tiesi.
The Stade Francais star replaces Marcelo Bosch in the only change to the side that was beaten 28-13 in Cardiff last month by Wales in what was Argentina’s only Test of the year.
“We think that this game and at this moment it is the best team we have,” said Phelan (below).
“We know we have 30 players and all are in very good condition for playing, but this starting XV is the best players we can put on the field.”
Prop Juan Figallo retains his place in the front row with the experienced Martin Scelzo forced to make do with a spot on the replacements bench.
“We know he is a young player but he is developing very well,” Phelan said of the 23-year-old Figallo. “He had a very good year in Montpellier and we think he is the best option for the right prop and also he can play left.”
Fly-half Felipe Contepomi retains the captaincy in what will be his fourth World Cup, a feat that will be matched by the 38-year-old hooker Mario Ledesma.
“We’ve only played one Test match in the last 11 months, so naturally we’re looking forward to growing up as a team throughout the tournament,” said Contepomi.
“Our expectation is to come and play our best and if we can be competitive on Saturday, that will be great and start the tournament as best we can.”