Gatland's men better for the experience
Wales 28 Argentina 13: Wales coach must mull benefits of taking old heads Jones and Williams to New Zealand after heartening warm-up victory over aggressive Argentina
Sunday 21 August 2011
Without reversing the sense that Wales need a better set piece if they are to achieve anything at next month's World Cup, this was not the worst of send-offs. Warren Gatland, the head coach, will confirm his squad tomorrow, with much of the debate concentrated on his two most experienced players, Stephen Jones and Martyn Williams.
Jones, the Scarlets fly-half, has not appeared in the three warm-up internationals, after withdrawing from the replacements bench yesterday, still feeling the calf strain he suffered before the loss to England a fortnight earlier. Despite James Hook and Rhys Priestland being in spritely form, Jones, who had another scan on Friday, falls into the same category as Williams – worth taking to New Zealand for his immense experience alone.
Williams will be 36 next month and he led Wales here in his last appearance at the Millennium Stadium. His ability over the loose ball remains evident but he has been by-passed by a younger generation, by Sam Warburton and perhaps Justin Tipuric who made his debut off the bench in the second half.
Gatland will be tempted to take Jones and Williams and he will also wonder whether to pick Andy Powell, the nomadic No 8 who scored the first Wales try. Powell has had to undergo rehabilitation after off-field incidents while with Wales and Wasps but he stormed around the field against the Pumas.
He was rivalled by another forward who needed a good game, Alun Wyn Jones. "He worked hard today," Gatland said, which was an understatement: the Lions lock played like a loose forward and scored his try after supporting his backs from 70 metres out. The main problem for the management will be how to split their resources – 16 or 17 forwards, which will be where they could be exposed against South Africa on 11 September.
They conceded too many penalties and free-kicks at the scrum and lost four line-outs – precisely the areas that had been exposed by England. But the return of Adam Jones brought greater stability to the front row and Bradley Davies played a strong line-out game.
Had Felipe Contepomi worn his kicking boots, Argentina would have made more of the first half-hour, which they dominated. In the first quarter alone they won more quick ruck ball than England managed in an entire game seven days earlier.
Contepomi, on his 34th birthday, had three opportunities to kick penalties. He succeeded with one and Wales were also able to read his attempts to run his country into attacking positions. Marcelo Bosch missed a straightforward drop-goal attempt and the game was turned on its head in the four minutes before half-time, when Wales scored two tries.
The first came when Powell kept control of the ball behind a messy scrum, Tavis Knoyle – another to confirm his place in the World Cup squad – contrived some momentum and Alun Wyn Jones gave Powell a sprint to the line from the 22. The second came from a turnover, Knoyle and Dan Lydiate giving Jamie Roberts space. The centre sent George North on a 40-metre run before he sent Alun Wyn Jones over.
Hook converted both tries and kicked two penalties in the third quarter, though Wales could take no advantage when Juan Fernandez Lobbe was sent to the sin-bin for tackling Alun Wyn Jones in the air.
Before Lobbe returned, Contepomi kicked an easy penalty after Martyn Williams was penalised – the flanker might well have been dispatched to the bin, rather than leaving with a blood injury.
Any South American hopes expired with a well-taken Welsh score: a set move from Jonathan Thomas's line-out win was held but Tipuric kept the ball alive and quick hands gave North a seventh try in nine appearances.
Argentina were able to maul Martin Scelzo over the line for a late try but Hook kicked his third penalty to close events. You could argue that the difference between the sides was one of preparation – this was Argentina's first Test of the year and only their 16th since they ended the 2007 World Cup as the third-best side.
In 2011 alone, Wales have played nine games, so if they seemed more advanced yesterday, so they should.
Wales L Byrne (Clermont Auvergne); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Blues), G North (Scarlets); J Hook (Perpignan), T Knoyle (Scarlets); P James, R Hibbard, A Jones (all Ospreys), B Davies (Blues), AW Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), A Powell (Sale), M Williams (Cardiff Blues, capt). Replacements J Thomas (Ospreys) for Lydiate, 58; A Brew (Dragons) for Byrne, 58; L Williams (Blues) for Knoyle, 62; R Bevington (Ospreys) for James, 62; H Bennett (Ospreys) for Hibbard, 62; J Tipuric (Ospreys) for M Williams, 62; S Williams (Scarlets) for Roberts, 67.
Argentina: M Rodriguez (Stade Français); G Camacho (Exeter), M Bosch (Biarritz), S Fernandez (Montpellier), H Agulla (Leicester); F Contepomi (Stade Français, capt), N Vergallo (Dax); R Roncero (Stade Français), M Ledesma (Clermont), J Figallo (Montpellier), M Carizza (Biarritz), P Albacete (Toulouse), JF Cabello (Tucuman), J Fernandez Lobbe (Toulon), JM Leguizamon (Lyon). Replacements J Imhoff (Duendes) for Camacho, 40; M Scelzo (Agen) for Figallo, 40; A Creevy (Montpellier) for Ledesma, 52; A Campos (Agen) for Leguizamon, 66; Figallo for Roncero, 68; M Galarza (unattached) for Carizza, 70.
Referee R Poite (France).
Argentina: The scouting report
Pumas need fixtures
"If England are 100 per cent and we are 100 per cent, I would say they are better than us," Felipe Contepomi, Argentina's captain, said after the loss to Wales. England play the Pumas in Dunedin on 10 September and the lesson from 2007 is to treat them with respect. By then, England will have played 40 Tests since the last World Cup; Argentina will have played 16. They have been forced to play South African provinces and, this Tuesday, Worcester at Sixways.
Power pack is weakening
The evidence from Cardiff is that the Argentina scrum is not the weapon it used to be. Mario Ledesma, the hooker, is 38, Rodrigo Roncero 34 and Martin Scelzo 35. "For us, this game was about the performance rather than the result," Santiago Phelan, the coach, said of the display in Cardiff. "We are still growing into our game." He can say that again: two meetings with the French Barbarians and a 70-point romp against a largely amateur South American XV have only taken Argentina so far, though they have had training time together.
Backs lack ball
Argentina's back three could be decent but not if no one gives them the ball. Martin Rodriguez at full-back has some of the languid skills of Juan Martin Hernandez – sadly ruled out of the World Cup by injury – and both wings are based with English clubs. But Argentina seldom threatened. "When we followed the game plan we did well but small mistakes, decision-making at the rucks, let us down," Contepomi said. "But the more you play, the more you learn. We are moving in the right direction."
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