Wales overcome mounting injury toll to hold off rusty Argentina
Wales 28 Argentina 13
Monday 22 August 2011
Martyn Williams knew it was the end of something and paid the moment its due, bandying the word "privilege" around as though it were going out of fashion and talking about "living the dream". The last of his many international appearances on his beloved Welsh soil had ended in victory, he had pilfered his share of Argentine possession and had discharged his duties as stand-in captain with customary aplomb. He had also retired early with a bashed-up face. Such is the way of it with open-side flankers.
The question is this: did the World Cup warm-up victory over the South Americans at the weekend signal Williams's retirement from the Test arena? Having been overtaken in the Red Dragon pecking order by Sam Warburton – a very different brand of breakaway but one capable of being every bit as influential – he is among a handful of loose forwards thought to be chasing a single place in the 30-man party for the forthcoming tournament and will discover today if he has been included.
Naturally, he was asked about his chances on Saturday evening. Naturally, he dead-batted the inquiries in Boycottesque fashion. If he did not sound terribly optimistic, it was understandable: the man charged with making the decision, the head coach Warren Gatland, was sitting immediately to his left with an inscrutable look on his face. This much is certain, though: there is not a rugby follower in Christendom who would begrudge Williams a last hurrah, and a 100th Welsh cap, in All Black country.
Having lost one Lions Test front-rower, the hooker Matthew Rees, to injury, Gatland is now deeply concerned that another, the prop Gethin Jenkins, will not recover from a calf problem in time to play a meaningful role in the competition. This alone should concentrate his mind on the Williams issue, for hard-won experience counts for an awful lot when World Cup campaigns come round. If the selectors omit their longest-serving forward, it will be a mighty big call.
Encouraged by the welcome return to form of the lock Alun Wyn Jones, who scored the best of his team's three tries by supporting a long-range attack launched by Tavis Knoyle and maximised by Jamie Roberts and the deeply impressive George North, the coach can head for his native New Zealand with a clear view of the road ahead.
Argentina, who face England in their opening pool game, are still trying to find their way out of the woods. They looked as powerful as ever up front – a couple of their less familiar forwards, notably the substitute hooker Agustin Creevy and the new blindside flanker Julio Farias Cabello, seemed freakishly strong – and started the game at an aggressive tempo, but dozens of small errors undermined them in this, their only serious preparatory contest.
"Apart from the last three minutes of the first half and the final moments of the second, two periods in which we conceded 17 points, we were competitive," argued their captain Felipe Contepomi, whose own kicking game left something to be desired. "When we were able to keep our structure, we did well. Our problem was individual mistakes – small errors of handling and decision-making.
"This is not an excuse for defeat. I am simply saying that now is the time for analysis, for detail. If we are 100 per cent and England are 100 per cent, maybe they are better than us. But it will depend who clicks during the 80 minutes."
They will be no pushovers, although the loss of the outside-half Juan Martin Hernandez to injury robs them of the element of surprise outside the scrum. Contepomi, the best inside centre in the tournament when the Pumas finished third in France four years ago, does not look quite as authoritative in the No 10 position, although his defensive work on Saturday was of its usual high standard.
If the skipper was reluctant to make a firm prediction ahead of the England game in Dunedin, the Wales prop Adam Jones was happy to engage in a little soothsaying. "It should be exhilarating," said the prop, who transformed the Wales scrum on his return to meaningful activity.
"Perhaps 3-0 to England with Wilkinson kicking a penalty." He was joking, of course. Wasn't he?
Scorers: Wales: Tries Powell, A W Jones, North. Conversions Hook 2 Penalties Hook 3. Argentina: Try Scelzo. Conversion Contepomi. Penalties Contepomi 2.
Wales: L Byrne (Clermont Auvergne); L Halfpenny (Cardiff Blues), J Davies (Scarlets), J Roberts (Cardiff Blues), G North (Scarlets); J Hook (Perpignan), T Knoyle (Scarlets); P James (Ospreys), R Hibbard (Ospreys), A Jones (Ospreys), B Davies (Cardiff Blues), A W Jones (Ospreys), D Lydiate (Newport Gwent Dragons), M Williams (Cardiff Blues, capt), A Powell (Sale).
Replacements: A Brew (NG Dragons) for Byrne 58; J Thomas (Ospreys) for Lydiate 58; L Williams (Cardiff Blues) for Knoyle 63; H Bennett (Ospreys) for Hibbard 63; R Bevington (Ospreys) for A Jones 63; J Tipuric (Ospreys) for M Williams 63; S Williams (Scarlets) for Roberts 70.
Argentina: M Rodriguez (Stade Francais); H Agulla (Leicester), M Bosch (Biarritz), S Fernandez (Montpellier), G Camacho (Exeter); F Contepomi (Stade Francais, capt), N Vergallo (Dax); R Roncero (Stade Francais), M Ledesma (Clermont Auvergne), J Figallo (Montpellier), M Carizza (Biarritz), P Albacete (Toulouse), J F Cabello (Tucuman), J M Leguizamon (Lyon), J M Fernandez Lobbe (Toulon).
Replacements: J Imhoff (Duendes) for Camacho h-t; M Scelzo (Agen) for Figallo h-t; A Creevy (Montpellier) for Ledesma 51; A Campos (Agen) for Leguizamon 68; Figallo for Roncero 71; M Galarza (unattached) for Carizza 74.
Referee: R Poite (France).
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