Rugby union: Jenkins tunes in to lift Wales

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The Independent Online
Argentina 26 Wales 36

BY THE time Wales had threaded their way through the Buenos Aires traffic to reach Ferrocarril Oeste the marching band were already warming up for their pre-match routine. Arriving 45 minutes before kick-off was not what Wales' coach, Graham Henry, had in mind, but there were tunes of glory playing by the end.

The non-appearance of a police escort to aid Wales on their way annoyed Henry, a meticulous planner who is in the throes of achieving something special with his "average side". Equally frustrating was the first half hour or so of play on Saturday, during which Argentina built a 23-0 lead. "I was thinking `hell, we can't play any worse than this'," Henry admitted afterwards. "You go through all the emotions in one game with this team." What the Welsh public have to thank the New Zealander for is that one of those emotions is a stirring refusal to buckle under pressure.

Wales teams of recent past might have done so in the face of Argentina's brisk opening, which brought them tries by Gonzalo Quesada and Octavio Bartolucci, plus 13 points from Quesada's boot. Instead, and with the Wales scrum markedly improved from the shoddiness of their last meeting with the Pumas at Llanelli in November, a fine recovery was launched when Dafydd James scored in the left corner in the last seconds before the break.

Argentina were angrily insistent that Wales's props, Ben Evans and Peter Rogers, had got away with illegally boring in at the scrum. The Pumas and Northampton hooker, Federico Mendez, went so far as to say that the English World Cup referee, Brian Campsall, had admitted his error after the match. Too late by then, of course, and the telling conclusion was that Evans and Rogers, with nine caps to the 46 of the Pumas props, Roberto Grau and Mauricio Reggiardo, had put in a magnificent performance, whatever the tactics.

Some of Wales's initial difficulty centred on Neil Jenkins, returning to action eight weeks after he had last played in the Wembley win over England. In this, Wales's fourth successive victory on foreign turf, Jenkins began rustily with a charged-down clearance kick and two missed penalties. Thereafter he displayed all his hallmarks of unflappable goal-kicking, raising his Wales record points total to 744, and astute control in the second half as the Pumas were forced to counter-attack or kick the ball back from deep.

"I was way off the pace in the first half and I struggled," Jenkins said. "I don't think I was the only one. But our tactics worked in the second half, we scored three great tries and our scrum was awesome."

Wales's use of Allan Bateman will come under close scrutiny. Northampton's recent recruit is not exactly turning cartwheels about having to play at inside centre and he endeavoured to keep away from wasteful contact situations to allow Wales's dangerous runners to move off him and his midfield colleagues, Jenkins and Mark Taylor. The line-out, too, went well and led directly to textbook tries by Brett Sinkinson and Chris Wyatt. All in all, a handy afternoon's work. The Henry bandwagon rolls on.

"We showed tremendous guts, character and composure to come back like that." said scrum-half Rob Howley. "The first 20 minutes were not great, to be truthful they tore us apart, but now we can look forward to the second Test next Saturday with confidence."

Argentina: Tries Quesada, Bartolucci; Conversions Quesada 2; Penalties Quesada 4. Wales: Tries James, Sinkinson, Wyatt; Conversions N Jenkins 3; Penalties N Jenkins 4; Drop goal Howarth.

Argentina: D Albanese; O Bartolucci, E Simone, L Arbizu, E Jurado; G Quesada, A Pichot; R Grau (O Hasan, h-t), F Mendez, M Reggiardo, P Sporleder (capt), A Allub (L Ostiglia, 55), R Martin, I Fernandez Lobbe, P Camerlinckx (G Longo, 75)

Wales: S Howarth; M Robinson, M Taylor, A Bateman, D James; N Jenkins, R Howley (capt); P Rogers (A Lewis, 74), G Jenkins, B Evans (D Young, 74), C Quinnell, C Wyatt, C Charvis, B Sinkinson, S Quinnell

Referee: B Campsall (England).

WALES TEAM (v Argentina A, Rosario, tomorrow): N Boobyer (Llanelli); G Thomas, L Davies (both Cardiff), S Jones (Llanelli), N Walne (Cardiff); A Thomas, R Jones; D Morris (all Swansea), J Humphreys, D Young (both Cardiff), M Voyle (Llanelli), A Moore (Swansea), R Arnold (Newcastle), M Williams (Pontypridd, capt), G Lewis (Pontypridd). Replacements: D Llewellyn (Ebbw Vale), B Hayward (Llanelli), M Watkins (Newport), A Lewis (Cardiff), C Anthony (Swansea), I Boobyer (Llanelli), G Llewellyn (Harlequins).