Argentinian passion play gives the returning hero a shock

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The Independent Online

Felipe Contepomi , the captain of Argentina, said he hoped his country would play with "passion, loyalty and sacrifice". Not everybody was convinced. This was by no means Argentina's strongest side. Nor, of course, was it the Lions which is just as well. New Zealanders watching this might be tempted to ask: is this the best you've got?

According to Sir Clive Woodward, the Lions head coach, the tour got under way last night but not in the way they expected. For most of this match the Lions were tested in a way that came as a huge shock to the system. Particularly Jonny Wilkinson's system.

Playing his first Test match since winning the World Cup final in Australia in November 2003, he was rustier than a nail on a trawler outhouse door. Surprising? Given his standards, yes.

First the positives, his goal-kicking kept the Lions, albeit tentatively, in the game and midway through the first half he made an encouraging little half-break that resulted in a try for his centre Ollie Smith, who took his chance extremely well. Smith later departed but his footnote in history, as the scorer of the first try of the Lions 2005 tour, is safe.

Unfortunately, the negatives for Wilkinson were considerable. His kicking out of hand was wayward to the point of eccentricity and he also missed a number of tackles. Missed tackles against a fired-up Pumas before the flight to New Zealand tomorrow is not the end of the world but it is just something that in the past his pride never permitted. Wilkinson has a lot to do in a short space of time if he is to become, as he was in Australia in 2001, the No 1 No 10.

The goal-kicking of his opposite number, Federico Todeschini was even more impressive. The stand-off, who had only won three caps, kicked quite magnificently and with very few tries on offer, this was manna from heaven for the Argentinians.

Their traditional strength is a hydraulic pack but in the eighth minute they produced a stunning try that should have been the brand of their opponents. The Lions midfield was torn apart and the result was an excellent try for the right-wing Jose Nunez Piossek. It came after Gareth Cooper was dispossessed and the Welsh scrum-half, whose service to Wilkinson was not what the stand-off wanted, went off in the second half to be replaced by the Scot Chris Cusiter.

One thing is for sure, the decision to play this warm-up match in Cardiff was an inspired move. The Millennium Stadium was almost full . When else could you expect to hear Wilkinson cheered to the rafters of the closed roof in Cardiff?

Beforehand the Lions unveiled their official tour anthem: "From the four corners of our lands, we're united, hand in hand, together, we're stronger, we join and proud we stand, etc." It is called "The Power of Four" although it really should be three and a bit given Scotland's tiny presence.

What the Lions' management were praying for last night was that the players would be singing from the same hymn sheet. It did not happen and but for Wilkinson's penalty that produced a draw with the final kick of the match, the tourists would have headed for the southern hemisphere with the reputation of the Lions badly wounded by the Pumas.

The Lions management will say that this was a wake-up call that will have done the party a lot of good. Over in New Zealand, where the Lions play their first match against the Bay of Plenty in Rotorua on Saturday week they might be licking their lips. Would the Bay have anything to work on? Plenty.

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