Welsh egos punctured by tireless Argentina
Wales 12 Argentina 26: Lobbe, Camacho and Imhoff blow away the Grand Slam champions with second-half blitz
This was not even close. A second victory for Argentina at an under- populated Millennium Stadium 11 years to the day after their first dealt a serious blow to Welsh esteem as well as their pursuit of World Cup ranking points. The heady target of three victories from the autumn engagements against southern hemisphere opponents appears fanciful after a fourth successive defeat.
Argentina failed to register a win in the inaugural Rugby Championship against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia, but in the second half here, they blew away the Grand Slam champions. Punctured Welsh egos were accompanied by a growing injury list, to which Jamie Roberts (concussion) and Alan Wyn Jones (knee ligament) added their heavyweight names. Already shorn of Adam Jones in the front row and flanker Dan Lydiat, Wales were a disjointed unit.
Captain and blindside flanker Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe walked off with the man of the match award on the occasion of his 50th cap for Argentina. He was one of half a dozen candidates for that honour. Gonzalo Camacho, scorer of the second try, and his opposite wing Juan Imhoff, would also be in the mix after ripping the Welsh defence to shreds in a coruscating second period.
The view of Welsh coach Shaun Edwards, that this is the best prepared Welsh team that he has been involved with, always looked at odds with the early season form of the side's most important players. Roberts, Gethin Jenkins, Mike Phillips and captain Sam Warburton are ghosts of the big-hearted heroes that drove Wales so close in the last World Cup and to grand slam success in the Six Nations.
The vaunted back three stuttered through the contest. George North battled gamely but in vain against concrete defence. Alex Cuthbert was starved of meaningful ball and Leigh Halfpenny had, at best, a disappointing afternoon. The potential for trouble was underlined within four minutes when Felipe Contepomi, the only member of the Argentina team present from their first victory here, slotted a penalty from 36 metres. Though Halfpenny accepted the invitation to respond 90 seconds later following a scrummaging infringement, the tempo was set by the visitors.
Niclas Sanchez re-established the advantage with a fine drop-goal in the 10th minute, finally triggering a response from the labouring Welsh. First North and then Roberts smashed across the gain line. As the ball spun wide Argentinian over-eagerness at the breakdown led to a scrum and eventually a second penalty award, which was snaffled by Halfpenny.
The full-on challenge expected from Argentina was symbolised by the hit administered to Roberts by opposing centre Gonzalo Tempi, who placed his shoulder squarly on his squarest jaw in rugby, knocking him clean out of the contest. The game fizzed on as a prone Roberts received treatment but it was clear he would take no further part. Halfpenny was not enjoying his greatest game in a red shirt but when the opportunity came to swing that right boot in front of the posts he did not miss a beat, edging Wales ahead for the first time with a third penalty shortly after Roberts left the field.
The mountainous nature of Roberts' build would have made a back- row forward blink a generation ago. Here he was tossed aside like driftwood. With backs built like locks and twice as quick, the pitch has effectively shrunk.
The hits go up and the game struggles to flow in the imperfect manner of old. It is obligatory to believe in these parts that the likes of Barry John, Gareth Edwards and JPR Williams would grace any Welsh team, but you wonder how they would have survived in the era of the Polish boot camp.
The first half closed with Argentina maurading across the Welsh 22. The move that sparked it resulted from a crunching tackle on Alun Wyn Jones, who was powerless to hold on to the ball such was the cataclysmic scale of the hit as he took his place in the line.
Not only did he lose possession but also his place on the pitch, replaced by Rob McCusker. It is, of course, not all about size, as the excellent defensive display of Camacho demonstrated. His tackle to halt the North juggernaut was textbook, not to mention his slide tackle, hooking the ball away with his right boot like a centre-half, to remind the crowd of the core importance of the foot to Argentinian sport.
Wales began the second period as slowly as the first, conceding two early penalties, both spurned by Argentina within the space of two minutes. After Halfpenny made them pay with a fourth penalty Sanchez made up for the errors by popping a second drop-goal between the posts to reduce the deficit to three. The improvisation triggered a rush of ideas that yielded the first try of the match, Argentina wing Imhoff cutting inside from the right past Halfpenny to score. Five minutes later Camacho speared Wales with a second try in the right corner, again overcoming Halfpenny to score.
A Sanchez penalty with nine minutes to go extended the lead to 14 points. There was no coming back from that.
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