Rugby Union: Howley hopes for a brighter tour future

IN THE unlikely event of Rob Howley chucking in an increasingly successful career as the Cardiff scrum-half and captain of Wales, he would not make much of a travel agent. Durban, Rob? "A shattering experience." Pretoria? "Very disappointing." Australia? "A bit of a disaster, really."

Howley and summer tours have gone together like a dose of Montezuma's Revenge on the beach in Acapulco. Getting there has not been a problem; having a lovely time certainly has. Back in 1993, he was crocked on Wales' trip to Namibia and Zimbabwe, although he would probably not have been selected ahead of the incumbent Rupert Moon anyway. The summer scene passed him by for two years then, sandwiched between two Wales tours to the southern hemisphere, there was the pain of injury with the Lions in 1997.

A year earlier Wales, with Howley in the side, conceded 96 points in two Test defeats in Australia. In Pretoria last year, it was different. Wales conceded 96 points in one Test defeat, with a hamstrung Howley a helpless spectator in the Loftus Versfeld stands.

No wonder the man who today captains Wales for the 15th time in his 32nd international is hoping for a brighter future. And, ironically, the prime evidence is a run of four successive Wales wins on foreign soil. The bandwagon has rolled nicely from a thrilling victory in France, on to Italy, Wembley (at "home" against England) and, last Saturday afternoon, Buenos Aires.

Today Wales enter the Pumas' lair again, hunting a first Test series win in Argentina by a home union. "I haven't had a great time with tours," said Howley, "especially in the last three years. Hopefully this will be the first of many better ones. It's nice that we've got the carrot of a bit of history to go for and if we can win against Argentina we will be in top nick against South Africa in two weeks' time."

Lose and Wales will be reflecting on three defeats in five matches here. Win and Graham Henry's side will indeed receive South Africa a fortnight today in great heart. Two days later Henry will name his 30-man squad for the World Cup, with France, Canada and Romania pencilled in for warm- up Tests.

"The boys will be coming back to Cardiff and into the Millennium Stadium," said Howley. "It is on a lot of the players' minds now, what a great feeling it would be to be in that first Wales XV to run out at the new stadium. For me personally, if I'm captain, the first game there would be very precious."

Argentina, who lost the first Test 36-26 after leading 23-0, pin their hopes of a shared series on greater flexibility in the pack. The flanker Ignacio Fernandez Lobbe moves up to the second row, much as Chris Wyatt has done for Wales with notable results. The Pumas make six changes in all, including Felipe Contepomi for Gonzalo Quesada at outside-half.

For their part, Wales have restored Gareth Thomas, with 18 tries in 33 caps, to the right wing and dropped Colin Charvis from the back row in favour of Pontypridd's Geraint Lewis. For the historically accident-prone tourists, a welcome piece of history beckons.

WALES (v Argentina, second Test, Buenos Aires): S Howarth (Sale); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), A Bateman (Northampton), D James (Pontypridd); N Jenkins (Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins, B Evans (both Swansea), C Quinnell (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), G Lewis (Pontypridd), B Sinkinson (Neath), S Quinnell (Llanelli) Replacements: N Boobyer, S Jones (both Llanelli), D Llewellyn (Ebbw Vale), M Voyle (Llanelli), D Young, A Lewis, J Humphreys (all Cardiff).

ARGENTINA: D Albanese (SIC); O Bartolucci, J Orengo (both Atletico del Rosario), L Arbizu (Brive), G Camardon (Alumni); F Contepomi (Newman), A Pichot (Richmond); R Grau (Saracens), F Mendez (Northampton), M Reggiardo (Castres), P Sporleder (Curupayti, capt), I Fernandez Lobbe (Liceo Naval), R Martin (SIC), M Ruiz (Teque), G Longo (SIC) Replacements: O Hasan (Auch), M Ledesma (Curupayti), A Allub (Jockey Club), L Ostiglia (Hindu), J Cilley (SIC), J Fernandez Miranda, N Fernandez Miranda (both Hindu).