Question mark over Rob Howley as Wales’ howler plunges fans into despair – Wales 12 Argentina 26
ON Saturday’s evidence the regions can rest easy; French clubs may have plenty of spare cash but they would not waste their euros on that rabble.
There was no sob story this time, no talk of taking the positives or learning the lessons of a narrow defeat.
Wales were battered by Argentina at the Millennium Stadium and produced a performance that would have caused absent head coach Warren Gatland, who was on Lions scouting duty, to throw his laptop against the wall when watching it back.
His deputy, Rob Howley, faces some tough questions, the most pressing being whether he has what it takes to stand in for the boss.
Because the three summer defeats to Australia were disheartening but the manner of the loss to the Pumas was unacceptable.
Forget Wales’ pre-match target of three wins from four autumn Tests, they are in a scramble to avoid a whitewash.
Those prepared to make accusations of that being a hysterical response to one defeat should be made to sit through those 80 minutes of dross again.
Yes, Wales were hard hit by injuries, with centre Jamie Roberts and lock Alun Wyn Jones joining Dan Lydiate, Ryan Jones and Adam Jones in the treatment room.
But the performance was bad before they were helped from the field and it’s not only the misfiring players who come under close scrutiny. The post-match chat from the Wales coaching staff was about the strides that Argentina have made thanks to their participation in the Rugby Championship.
“Tempo, pace and intensity are important when you play Argentina, but there is no doubt their experience and exposure to the Rugby Championship have taken them to another level,” said Howley. “They played the All Blacks, South Africa and Australia and they have certainly learned from that. We were exposed to it and we very much came second.”
Yet the excellent Pumas were aided by selection mistakes.
Granted, it’s easier to say with hindsight, but the failure to put a specialist lock on the bench was a criminal gaffe – Wales looked lopsided when Rob McCusker replaced second-rower Jones.
And then there was the loyalty to the misfiring Rhys Priestland at fly-half and a raft of his teammates who have been out of form in their club colours. Failure to hand starts to the Ospreys’ Dan Biggar, Richard Hibbard and Justin Tipuric came back to haunt Howley.
But for all the stats data and talk of Polish preparation, rugby is a simple game and Argentina dominated because they just ran harder than Wales.
The hosts possessed just one ball-carrier of note – Newport Gwent Dragons’ number eight Toby Faletau – while the Pumas had the marvellous Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Manuel Carizza.
It’s traditional to say “you know what’s coming with Argentina” but they showed a lot more than simply a strong set piece and a damn sight more than Wales.
They got over the gain line, offloaded well and displayed much more guile than their predictable and plodding hosts. In truth Wales have been papering over the cracks for quite a while; even on their way to a Grand Slam they were hardly dazzling.
The first half was awful, with the only real incidents of note being injuries; Felipe Contempomi stretchered off with a knee injury after just 13 minutes and a dazed Roberts helped from the field after a clash of heads with centre Gonzalo Tiesi with 23 minutes gone.
Wales led 9-6 at the break thanks to three Leigh Halfpenny penalties to one by Contepomi and a smart drop goal by Nicolas Sanchez.
They looked likely to get out of jail when a pair of Sanchez penalty misses early in the second half were followed by a Halfpenny three-pointer.
But Argentina, who had narrowed the gap thanks to another Sanchez drop goal, got the win that they deserved when they struck twice before the hour with a pair of marvellous finishes.
The Millennium Stadium has got used to wingers running free to devastating effect but this time it wasn’t George North or Alex Cuthbert taking a bow.
First Juan Imhoff expertly rounded Halfpenny after being set in motion by Leguizamon and Lobbe offloads then Gonzalo Camacho dotted down in the right corner magnificently before being forced into touch.
It was hard to see Wales getting back into it at 23-12 and impossible when Sanchez extended the Pumas’ lead with another penalty. But the worrying thing was that 26-12 didn’t really do Argentina justice. It could be a long month.
Wales: L Halfpenny, A Cuthbert, S Williams, J Roberts (J Hook 24), G North, R Priestland, T Knoyle (M Phillips 56), G Jenkins (R Bevington 68), M Rees (R Hibbard 60), A Jarvis (P James 64), A W Jones (R McCusker 39), I Evans, J Turnbull, S Warburton (captain, J Tipuric 70), T Faletau.
Scorers: penalties – L Halfpenny (4).
Argentina: J M Hernandez (H Agulla 45), G Camacho, G Tiesi, F Contepomi (J Tuculet 14), J Imhoff, N Sanchez, M Landajo (N Vergallo 66), M Ayerza (B Postiglioni 78), E Guinazu (A Creevy 48), J Figallo (J Gomez 66), M Carizza, J Cabello (T Vallejos 64), J M F Lobbe (captain), J M Leguizamon, L Senatore (T Leonardi 56).
Scorers: tries – J Imhoff, G Camacho; conversions – N Sanchez; penalties – F Contepomi, N Sanchez; drop goals – N Sanchez (2).
Referee: Romain Poite (France).
Attendance: 51, 443