Rowntree expecting formidable Argentina front-row challenge

ENGLAND scrum coach Graham Rowntree has steeled his men for the ultimate challenge of facing Argentina’s set piece in Saturday’s Rugby World Cup opener.

Rowntree faced the Pumas twice in his own 53-Test career and he knows from tough personal experience that England could not have asked for a sterner opening challenge.

The Pumas named their team yesterday and veteran hooker Mario Ledesma is set to join England’s Jonny Wilkinson in playing in his fourth World Cup.

Ledesma will pack down in a Pumas front row alongside Stade Francais prop Rodrigo Roncero and the inexperienced Montpellier tighthead Juan Figallo, who got the nod ahead of Martin Scelzo.

England will name their team in the early hours of Thursday but they are expected to field their biggest possible front row of Steve Thompson, Dan Cole and Andrew Sheridan.

“You test yourself as a player, as a front row forward, against the Argentinians and the French,” said Rowntree. “And when you’ve got Argentinians playing with French clubs, that doubles the challenge.

“As a youngster, one of my first caps was against Argentina and that was a difficult evening. It’s a benchmark of scrummaging gurus: how do you do against a team like Argentina or France?

“Are they the best in the business? We’ll see in this competition.

“They’re always a handful as a nation. A very physical outfit, the whole team: forward line, back line, they won’t give up.

“It’s always a very hard, physical encounter against them and I don’t think that will ever change.”

Other than the retention of Figallo in the Pumas side that lost to Wales last month, the only notable selection was the return of former London Irish and Harlequins centre Gonzalo Tiesi.

England are set to name the same team they had intended on fielding against Ireland just under a fortnight ago before injury intervened, with James Haskell to start at openside flanker and Nick Easter at number eight.

Dylan Hartley limped up on stage in England’s official welcoming ceremony, which included a haka, highland dancing and some Chinese acrobats. England officials insist Hartley is not in doubt for the game.

ARGENTINA (v England, Saturday, 9.30am)

M Rodriguez; G Camacho, G Tiesi, S Fernandez, H Agulla; F Contepomi (capt), N Vergallo; R Roncero, M Ledesma, J Figallo, M Carizza, P Albacete, J Farias Cabello, JM Leguizamon, JM Fernandez Lobbe.

Replacements: A Creevy, M Scelzo, M Galarza, A Campos, A Lalanne, M Bosch, J Imhoff.

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