Rugby Union: Welsh fire consumes the Puma power pack

Wales 43 Argentina 30
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The Independent Online
SO THE performance against the Springboks was no flash in the frying pan; Wales rumbled into the fire against Argentina with even more character and determination. But the back buckling, muscle-wrenching scrummages the forwards had to endure this time around against the mighty forward machine of the Pumas contrasted sharply with what had to be overcome against South Africa last week.

And the Welsh players were clearly grateful. Flanker Colin Charvis, who scored two tries for the fired-up Dragons said afterwards: "The quote in the changing-room just now was, `Thank you very much WRU; first they give us the world champions with their ultimate speed; then they give us the Pumas with their ultimate strength'."

And the best scrummage in the world. For all that they won, Wales now have a major worry, which is finding quality home-produced front row beef to match the testosterone terrors from the southern hemisphere. The Wales coach, Graham Henry, admitted as much after his team's heroic showing in front of the 10,500 who made the journey west to Llanelli's proud home.

"The scrum was a worry," said Henry, a New Zealander, who has been in charge for barely three months. "We always knew we would be under extreme pressure, but I thought we would be able to handle it. I don't think I've ever seen a side scrummage as well as that. We weren't second, we were third. They really squeezed us. I will be paying the scrummage a lot of attention in the coming months. It is an area we will have to work on."

By the time Wales' Five Nations campaign is under way next February Henry should also have the services of Dai Young and Peter Rogers, men of considerable stature and ability, to work with. Maybe a couple of minotaurs will also have been unearthed.

That the Welsh were able not just to withstand the battering up front, but to break clear long enough to establish a lead and then hang on to it, is testament to the spirit in the squad. "It was a tremendous test of our character," said the hooker Jonathan Humphreys. "We have come on again from last week. We can be proud of ourselves. Their scrummage was far tougher than the South Africans."

The thing was, though, that the scrummage was all the Argentinians had to offer. Their approach was one dimensional - although an all-consuming dimension at times - based purely on the power of the pack, with none of it channelled out to the bright lights in the backs.

And out wide was where Wales scored - literally. Scott Gibbs was awesome.

Pace on the break, strength to draw the cover and stay upright in the tackle, making the ball available to be used through the resultant gap; and defensively the man was as steadfast as the Rock of Ages. Outside him, Mark Taylor was a revelation, not just because he opened the Wales scoring, but because he, too, offers much in every department.

It was Robert Howley - almost rendered headless in the opening minutes by a careless bit of footwork from Puma prop Mauricio Reggiardo - and Neil Jenkins who directed the ebb and flow of play from half-back. This, with a pair of wings who can also tackle their weight and better, and surely the ultimate in fullbacks in the shape of Shane Howarth, devastating in speed of thought and foot, meant Wales looked, and were, world class. All 15 players were always prepared to run - at the opposition, not away - knifing through and carving out angular slashes through the defensive lines. "If one word could sum up what Graham Henry has done for us," said captain Rob Howley later, "it has to be confidence. We are more confident on the ball and equally so with our decision-making."

Alex Wyllie, the grizzled coach of the Pumas who has already seen his side lose to France, predicted: "The Five Nations is going to be very strong this year." Henry feels the same. "I think they will all be hell- of-a-hard games in the Five Nations," he said. On this showing Wales will be able to tough it out with the best. It could well come down to a question of whether the best will be tough enough for Wales.

Wales: Tries Taylor, Charvis 2, James; Conversions Jenkins 4; Penalties Jenkins 5.

Argentina: Tries Pichot, F Contepomi, Penalty try, Sporleder; Conversions F Contepomi 2; Penalties F Contepomi 2.

WALES: S Howarth (Sale); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor, S Gibbs (both Swansea), D James; N Jenkins (both Pontypridd), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); A Lewis, J Humphreys (both Cardiff), C Anthony (Swansea), C Quinnell (Richmond), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), S Quinnell (Llanelli), M Williams (Pontypridd). Replacements: M Voyle (Llanelli) for S Quinnell 45; B Williams (Richmond) for M Williams 72.

ARGENTINA: M Contepomi (Newman); I Corleto (CUBA), J Orengo (Rosario), L Arbizu (Brive), F Soler (Tala, Cordoba); F Contepomi (Newman), A Pichot (Richmond); M Reggiardo (Castres), F Mendez (Northampton), O Hasan-Jalil (Wellington), P Sporleder (Curupayti, capt), A Allub (Jockey Club, Cordoba), M Ruiz (Teque), P Camerlinckx (Regatas de Bella Vista), M Durand (Champagnat). Replacements: R Martin (San Isidro) for Durand, 60; E Simone (Liceo Naval) for Orengo, 65; M Ledesma (Curupayti) for Reggiardo, 70; D Albanese (San Isidro) 73.

Referee: A Lewis (Ireland).