Wales axe Phillips for Argentina clash

 

Lions scrum-half Mike Phillips was the biggest casualty yesterday as Wales announced their line-up to face Argentina on Saturday. Coach Rob Howley, already forced to make changes because of injury to key players, picked Scarlets' Tavis Knoyle in his place.

Phillips, a fixture in the side for the past five years and now part of the Welsh diaspora in France, has paid for his lacklustre start to the season.

Out of the fridge and into the fire comes Ospreys prop Aaron Jarvis, stepping in to the international furnace as the replacement, if that is ever the right word when applied to titans, for Adam Jones. Jarvis will need every ounce of the advantages gained in the Polish cryotherapy unit that Wales have been using when he goes up against the inhospitable Puma front row at tight head. There is nothing a front line warrior from east of the Andes likes better than to mash the bones of fresh meat.

Jarvis was one of seven changes in the team from the summer defeat to Australia in Sydney. That agonising reverse in June by a point is a habit Wales are desperate to break as they begin the autumnal litmus test against the southern hemisphere sides.

Edged in the World Cup by the same margin at the hands of South Africa in the pool stage, and defeated narrowly in the semi-finals by New Zealand, Wales must add the art of winning close matches to their impressive résumé.

Wales' reinforced hegemony in the north with a third Grand Slam in six seasons in March. The ultimate step with this group is to convert at the next World Cup. The coming four matches, particularly the fixtures against South Africa and New Zealand, will tell stand-in boss Howley and his line manager Warren Gatland, how far there is left to travel.

Rhys Priestland, preferred at fly-half to James Hook, is the man with the keys to a back division that would light up any team in the world, particularly the back three of Leigh Halfpenny, George North and Alex Cuthbert.

Howley will settle for any kind of victory against awkward opponents. "One or two injuries have forced our hands in certain areas in terms of selection," he said. "But the fact that we are still able to field a side packed with Grand Slam experience shows that we have been able to develop some depth in recent years.

"There are obvious opportunities for the likes of Aaron, Tavis and Josh [Turnbull, flanker] to pull on the jersey and try to make it their own. Tavis has worked his socks off and deserves to start."

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