Fresh off the Rugby Championship, Argentina are now officially one of the game's elite as they prepare to meet Wales on Saturday.
Fresh from the Rugby Championship, Argentina are now officially one of the game's top nations as they prepare to meet Wales on Saturday.
Memories of Los Pumas in Cardiff include their stunning draw with the British & Irish Lions in 2005, a result that grabbed the world's attention. They now return to Millennium Stadium once more to face the Six Nations champions.
Both sides have recently been defeated by Australia – Argentina in narrow encounters as they hunted for their first win in the Rugby Championship, whilst Wales were disappointing against a resurgent Wallaby side during their June tour.
Whilst regional success is unbalanced with the Ospreys and Scarlets at the top and the Blues and Dragons struggling down the bottom, the national side remain a beacon of hope for Welsh rugby and many of the stars who have departed for the euro – Mike Phillips, Gethin Jenkins and James Hook – will all be involved against Argentina.
One new face in the Wales squad is at tighthead prop in Aaron Jarvis. While Jenkins is winning his 91st cap on the loosehead side, Jarvis will have to cope with Marcos Ayerza on his first appearance for his country – a daunting task for the Osprey.
Elsewhere, Josh Turnbull is tasked with replacing the injured Dan Lydiate, no mean feat considering what Lydiate achieved during last season. A good appearance from Turnbull may secure the shirt long-term, although the concept of somehow playing both Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric at the same time remains appealing.
Rhys Priestland is under pressure to perform after a disappointing tour of Australia, with Dan Biggar and Hook breathing down his neck. Starting Tavis Knoyle is a sign of faith from Rob Howley and a message to Mike Phillips – how the veteran reacts will say plenty about his commitment to his country.
What is integral to any Welsh success however is getting the ball into the hands of George North and Alex Cuthbert. Both wingers are in good form at domestic level and their power will prove troublesome for any defence.
As for the Pumas, now that Rodrigo Roncero has finally hung up his boots the great generation that led Argentina to a third place finish at the 2007 Rugby World Cup is starting to fade away. Fortunately, as his replacement they have Marcos Ayerza, the Leicester prop whose reputation proceeds him.
Speaking of the class of 2007, Felipe Contepomi has returned to the squad after missing the Rugby Championship. His partnership with Gonzalo Tiesi is a familiar one due to their time together both in France and with the Pumas. Injury saw Tiesi limp out of the Rugby World Cup and miss the Rugby Championship, but his good form for San Isidro has led to him being recalled.
Argentina's best result in the Rugby Championship may have only been a draw, but they were far from the whipping boys that many people suspected they would prove to be in their first season. Australia were driven close on both occasions and South Africa made to sweat in Mendoza, having to share the points.
That momentum from going up against the world's best will make them stronger and Wales should be wary.
If their pack can cause problems for Jarvis at the scrum and Contepomi combines with fly-half Nicolas Sanchez to produce an effective kicking game, then their chances will increase.
Ones to watch:
For Wales: All eyes are on Josh Turnbull as he comes in at blindside to replace Dan Lydiate for his fifth cap. Lydiate's influence on Wales defence was key to Six Nations success last year and Turnbull must emulate his work ethic. Against Juan MÃ¡rtin FernÃ¡ndez Lobbe and Juan Manuel Leguizamon he will be severely tested and how he fronts up will determine whether he continues to add to his caps this November. Elsewhere, Rhys Priestland has work to do but is showing glimpses of the form that saw him take last year's Rugby World Cup by storm.
For Argentina: There is arguably no Argentinian player more talented than El Mago – Juan MÃ¡rtin HernÃ¡ndez. Full-back is not his best position but the width and playmaking abilities that he possess will keep Wales occupied all afternoon. If Argentina decide tactically that the boot is the best way forward through the trio of HernÃ¡ndez, Contepomi and Sanchez, then Leigh Halfpenny will be in for a long afternoon.
Head-to-head: A battle between scrum-halves, Tavis Knoyle and Martin Landajo should grab plenty of attention. Both young number nines, Knoyle impressed Rob Howley in Spala and has been in good form for the Scarlets. With the talented Mike Phillips relegated to the bench, if Knoyle performs well in the shirt, he will keep it. Landajo was effective for the Pumas in The Rugby Championship and finished off a sensational try against New Zealand, showing great speed. Elsewhere the battle between Aaron Jarvis and Marcos Ayerza could dictate the result.
2011: Wales won 28-13 in Cardiff
2009: Wales won 33-16 in Cardiff
2007: Wales won 27-20 in Cardiff
2006: Argentina won 45-27 in Buenos Aires
Prediction: Argentina have the pack to make this a narrow contest, but if Wales can secure possession and bring their back three into the game they should win this. Wales by 8.
Wales: 15 Leigh Halfpenny, 14 Alex Cuthbert, 13 Scott Williams, 12 Jamie Roberts, 11 George North, 10 Rhys Priestland, 9 Tavis Knoyle, 8 Toby Faletau, 7 Sam Warburton (capt), 6 Josh Turnbull, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Alun Wyn Jones, 3 Aaron Jarvis, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Gethin Jenkins.
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Ryan Bevington, 18 Paul James, 19 Rob McCusker, 20 Justin Tipuric, 21 Mike Phillips, 22 James Hook, 23 Liam Williams.
Argentina: 15 Juan Martin Hernandez, 14 Gonzalo Camacho, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Felipe Contepomi, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Leonardo Senatore, 5 Julio Farias Cabello, 4 Manuel Carizza, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Bruno Postiglioni, 18 Juan Gomez, 19 Tomas Vallejos Cinalli, 20 Tomas Leonardi, 21 Nicolas Vergallo, 22 Horacio Agulla, 23 Joaquin Tuculet.
Date: Saturday, November 10
Kick-off: 14:30 (GMT)
Venue: Millennium Stadium, Cardiff
Referee: Romain Poite (France)
Assistant referees: George Clancy (Ireland), Dudley Phillips (Ireland)
Television match official: Jim Yuille (Scotland)
By Ben Coles