With their warm-up matches complete, England begin their two-Test series with Argentina by taking on the Pumas in Salta on Sunday.
Having split their squad in preparation for their June Test matches and the upcoming Rugby Championship, Argentina are without several leading stars including Juan Martin Fernendez Lobbe, Juan Imhoff, Juan Martin Hernendez and Patricio Albacete.
In total, 21 of Argentina’s leading players have been rested from facing England and Georgia. It is a testament to their growing depth that despite the number of absentees, the side put out in Salta is a very competitive one.
Centred around the experience of the illustrious Felipe Contepomi – who will retire from the game following this month’s Tests – there are exciting young talents such Manuel Montero and Martin Landajo.
The pack however is well-worn and full of experience. Pablo Henn and Maximiliano Bustos are problematic to contain, while Julio Farias Cabello was one of the stars of last year’s Rugby Championship before joining London Welsh in the Aviva Premiership.
Add in the expertise of Gonzalo Tiesi, Benjamin Urdapilleta and Tomas Leonardi – Argentina have a strong core from which to work around and control the tempo of the match if England struggle to maintain possession.
Weakened? Certainly – but these Pumas have enough bite.
England have already received their fair share of physicality after being worryingly outmuscled in the opening and final quarters by the CONSUR XV in Montevideo.
Either side of those suspect patches came six tries, including a six-minute hat-trick for Wasps number eight Billy Vunipola, whilst Ben Foden carried on from his impressive showing in the Aviva Premiership Final as an inexperienced England side were put through their paces.
Two wins from two, the first coming against a shoddy Barbarians outfit, have handed young stars a chance to impress but the Test series is another matter.
It is for that reason that the likes of Joe Launchbury, Ben Morgan and David Wilson return upfront to take on the Argentinian pack.
That said, England are not without some intriguing picks. The return of Bath duo Rob Webber and Dave Attwood to Test rugby seemed unlikely in the Six Nations due to injuries and form, but both have fought their way back into contention.
David Strettle and Lee Dickson are two more who have been forced to bide their time for another chance.
Stuart Lancaster has not been afraid however to pick young talent. Christian Wade’s Test debut is arguably overdue. Matt Kvesic is highly rated in many circles. Jonathan Joseph is still just 21. Joe Marler, with Alex Corbisiero now away with the Lions, can leave a mark.
It is an England side full of promising talent, but certainly not Test experience. Facing Argentina is not just about the opposition on the pitch but also the surroundings.
After all, if winning a Test series in Argentina was so simple, England would have done it before.
Ones to Watch:
For Argentina: After Agustin Pichot and Nicolas Vergallo, comes Martin Landajo. The Pampas XV scrum-half is still only 24, but is full of potential and has 17 caps to his name. Partnering Urdapilleta at half-back and with Contepomi outside him, if the forwards can secure enough clean ball then Landajo will thrive.
For England: How can you not keep an eye on Christian Wade? The electric 21-year old from London Wasps has already collected plenty of awards this season, but a first England cap may prove to be his most treasured possession of the campaign. Remember the location and opposition when the question comes up in future years about where Wade’s England career truly began.
Head-to-Head: A pair of big ball carriers. Tomas Leonardi is an ominous presence at 6ft 5′ and nearly 17 stone, set to test the defence of Freddie Burns with his bursts from the back of the scrum. Ben Morgan is no shrinking violet either and after Vunipola’s try-scoring exploits will have a point to prove.
Prediction: Tricky. Argentina have enough class, home advantage and an experienced pack. England possess searing pace in their backs but that will amount to nothing if they prove inferior in the set-piece. A narrow away win. England by 4.
Argentina: 15 Martin Bustos Moyano, 14 Matias Orlando, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Felipe Contepomi (captain), 11 Manuel Montero, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Tomas Leonardi, 7 Benjamin Macome, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Esteban Lozada, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Martin Garcia Veiga, 1 Pablo Henn.
Replacements: 16 Mauricio Guidone, 17 Guillermo Roan, 18 Francisco Gomez Kodela, 19 Tomas Vallejos, 20 Tomas De la Vega, 21 Nicolas Vergallo, 22 Gabriel Ascarate, 23 Belisario Agulla.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Christian Wade, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 David Strettle, 10 Freddie Burns, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Ben Morgan, 7 Matt Kvesic, 6 Tom Wood (c), 5 Dave Attwood, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Rob Webber, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 David Paice, 17 Paul Doran Jones, 18 Henry Thomas, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Billy Vunipola, 21 Richard Wigglesworth, 22 Kyle Eastmond, 23 Ben Foden.
Date: Saturday, June 8
Venue: Estadio Padre Ernesto Martearena, Salta
Kickoff: 16:10 local (20:10 BST)
Referee: Chris Pollock (New Zealand)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Christie du Preez (South Africa)
TMO: Shaun Veldsman (South Africa)
Assessor: Carlos Molinari (Argentina)