France and Argentina end their World Cup at Parc des Princes this evening the way they began, playing each other in the teeth-grindingly named bronze final. It is a quirk of the tournament that each of the final two pairings began life in the same pool, and the Pumas' 17-12 victory over Les Bleus on the opening night created ripples of after-shock which are only now abating.
Both teams have changed roughly half of their losing semi-final line-ups for a fixture for which a capacity 48,000 crowd is predicted; for both it will be a farewell to their coaches – Argentina's Marcelo Loffreda is off to be head coach at Leicester Tigers while Bernard Laporte, after eight years in the France job, will be a minister for sport in Nicolas Sarkozy's government. One will need the determination and diplomatic skills of a saint to survive in a dauntingly cut-throat environment, and Laporte will probably need to be on his toes too.
Argentina's scrum-half and captain, Agustin Pichot, has not yet called it a day in terms of Tests. "It could be my last game, but I would very much like to do that in Argentina," said the 33-year-old No 9. "This is still an important match. Firstly, because we are playing in the Argentina jersey and, secondly, as it is the end of the World Cup cycle."
Whatever the result, Argentina will look back on the tournament with more satisfaction than their hosts, although it would have been worse still for France had they not beaten New Zealand's All Blacks in the Cardiff quarter-final. Without that, there would have been rotten fruit raining down on Laporte from a great height after last Saturday's semi-final knockout by England. The Perpignan centre David Marty was yesterday reinstated to the starting XV when Damien Traille pulled up with a sore knee. David Skrela, whose Achilles tendon injury early in the World Cup opened the way for Lionel Beauxis to play at fly-half, will be at inside centre with Freddy Michalak at No 10.
Aurélien Rougerie, the big wing considered surplus to requirements against England, will start tonight. "There's undeniably an element of revenge involved," Rougerie said. "We want to prove it wasn't the real French team which lost to Argentina.
And for some players it will be their international swansong." Fabien Pelous is not in the XXII, so has played his French record 118th and last Test, but Raphaël Ibañez, the hooker and captain, is waiting until after this match before announcing his international retirement. Of course Ibañez – à la Jason Robinson, Lawrence Dallaglio and Mark Regan – retired once before, after France lost the third-place match to New Zealand 40-13 in Sydney in 2003. In the latter respect, he has a chance to go one better.
Less than a week after starting at Leicester on 5 November, Loffreda – going full-time as a coach after work as a civil engineer and sales manager – has a Heineken Cup match at Leinster on the 10th. "Before Marcelo, the talk was of an achievement with each big victory," said Felipe Contepomi, the Argentina and Leinster centre. "Today people simply say the Pumas are hard to beat. Loffreda has changed the mentality of the Argentine player."
France: C Poitrenaud; A Rougerie, D Marty, D Skrela, C Dominici; F Michalak, J-B Elissalde;J-B Poux, R Ibañez (capt), P de Villiers, L Nallet, J Thion, Y Nyanga, T Dusautoir, I Harinordoquy. Replacements: S Bruno, N Mas, S Chabal, R Martin, P Mignoni, L Beauxis, V Clerc.
Argentina: I Corleto; F M Aramburu, M Contepomi, F Contepomi, H Agulla; J M Hernandez, A Pichot (capt); R Roncero, A Vernet Basualdo, O Hasan, R Alvarez Kairelis, P Albacete, M Durand, J M Fernandez Lobbe, G Longo. Replacements: M Ayerza, E Guiñazu, E Lozada, J M Leguizamon, N Fernandez Miranda, F Todeschini, H Senillosa.
Referee: P Honiss (New Zealand).