Young French try-scoring star Teddy Thomas’s indiscretion has cost him a place in the team at the Stade de France on Saturday and no-one will be more relieved than opponents Argentina.
The 21-year-old Racing-Metro wing made a stunning start to his international career these last two weeks, scoring a hat-trick of tries on his debut against Fiji before adding a dazzling individual score against Australia last week.
And Argentina would have been quaking in their boots at the prospect of facing the powerful and speedy left wing, until he cost himself a starting berth by turning up two hours late for a training session on Wednesday night.
Experienced Toulouse back Maxime Medard is certainly no poor-man’s replacement, having scored 11 tries in 40 international appearances.
But there is a difference between Medard and a young, fearless, in-form player brimming with confidence and riding a wave of success.
Thomas would have been a potent weapon against Argentina.
France have actually won three of the last four meetings between the sides but between 2002 and 2007, Les Bleus were defeated six times out of seven, including three times on home soil — two of those coming at the 2007 World Cup.
Recalled hooker Benjamin Kayser, who came off the bench against Fiji and Australia, says it’s important not to underestimate Argentina.
France have a history of slipping up against the Pumas just after taking a supposedly bigger scalp. In 2004 they beat the Australian tourists only to then lose at home to Argentina while they beat the All Blacks in the quarter-finals of the 2007 World Cup, only to fall twice to the Pumas.
– Not negligible –
Yet Kayser says their recent run — which comes during a troubled period under coach Philippe Saint-Andre, whose side has won only 13 out of 31 internationals under his guidance — has boosted confidence.
“We’re delighted to finally taste some victories, that’s not negligible, in a group dynamic it’s hugely important,” said the 30-year-old Clermont front-rower.
“But now, before we can assess where we are, we have to get through this weekend’s match because if we get a slap in the face, that will ruin the good feeling from the last two weeks.”
Having been beaten in all three Tests in each of their last two summer tours to New Zealand (2013) and Australia (2014), as well as failing to secure a top-half finish in any of the last three Six Nations, Kayser says Les Bleus have managed to drag themselves out of the mire by sticking together.
“We have to concentrate on ourselves and, even if we lack something in terms of talent or organisation, we make up for it in enthusiasm and aggression. That’s what we showed in these last two matches,” he said.
Lack of talent is certainly not an accusation that could be levied at Argentina back Juan Martin Hernandez, who will line up at inside centre on Saturday.
The versatile playmaker, known as ‘El Mago’ (the magician) and more used to turning out at fly-half or full-back, is well known to Parisian audiences having spent 10 years playing at the city’s two clubs, Stade Francais and Racing.
His ability to play a variety of roles has often been a source of frustration to Hernandez, who usually wanted to wear the No.10 shirt, but he admits now that it helped him improve as a player.
“This versatility helped me become good at everything but a specialist at none,” said the player who quit Racing at the end of last season to return to his homeland, only to come back to France and Toulon this season as injury cover.
“I don’t regret it, it allowed me to rarely be a substitute and enriched me as a player.”
Argentina have been blowing hot and cold recently, earning an historic first Rugby Championship victory against Australia last month, to then get turned over 41-31 by Scotland two weeks ago.
Yet they beat Italy last week to give themselves a boost ahead of Saturday’s clash.