Wales catch Argentina cold

28th Aug 2007, 10:51


Keep Up: Alun-Wyn Jones of Wales dives over for his try

Keep Up: Alun-Wyn Jones of Wales dives over for his try

Wales silenced their doubters with a highly absorbing 27-20 victory over Argentina at the Millennium Stadium.

Wales silenced their doubters with a highly absorbing 27-20 victory over Argentina at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on Saturday, thereby exorcised the ghosts of that record defeat at Twickenham.

The Pumas managed to steady themselves after a woeful start and almost snatched a share of the spoils when Martín Durand piled over the line at the death, but a timely intervention by Duncan Jones saved the day for Wales.

Admittedly, and as Gareth Jenkins's band of detractors will duly point out, the Pumas looked decidedly off-colour for much of the match.

This was not the side ranked fifth in the world - the outfit seen by many as the dark horse of the forthcoming World Cup. The side that turned up in Cardiff resembled the Pumas of old: hesitant, disjointed, a touch naïve and in awe of their hosts and the surroundings.

Things did improve for the visitors in the second half as the rust began to flake away, but the mental damage had already been done.

And with no major engagements before hostilities begin for real, one can't help think that the South Americans might be in danger of being undercooked for that crucial opening fixture against France in Paris.

Yet credit must go to Wales for shaking that dire performance against England out of their systems with a display of confidence and cunning.

The line-out is still a huge concern, but the red forwards somehow managed to bully the bullies of world rugby.

James Hook and Gareth Thomas added wit and zip to the backline, and the whole ensemble was held together by the peerless Martyn Williams.

But Wales, desperate to conjure up something special, made the worst possible start as Thomas's pass to Tom Shanklin was plucked out of the air by Ignacio Corleto.

Hook gave valiant chase but the Stade Français wing sprinted 60 metres to score unopposed in the left corner.

The paltry crowd slumped further in their seats when Hook's first shot at goal crashed back off the left-hand post - but the brilliant fly-half soon had them dancing in the aisles.

Hook sold a perfect dummy, sliced through the Argentina midfield and then presented his captain with the chance to make swift amends. Thomas scored gratefully under the posts and Hook's conversion drew Wales level.

It was a positive response from Wales, who continued to be haunted by troubles in the line-out but were strong in defence and succeeded in forcing Argentina into mistakes.

With the Pumas on the back foot, Wales began to play at the high pace at which they are most comfortable and most dangerous.

They attacked quickly from turnover ball on halfway, Dwayne Peel anxious to take quick tap penalties as Argentina tried desperately to slow the ball down.

Thomas's jinking run cut deep into Argentina's 22. Wales earned a penalty right in front of the posts - a guaranteed three points - but the Pumas were in disarray.

Peel wasted no time and sent Alun-Wyn Jones powering over for his maiden Test try. Hook converted and the crowd began to stir.

Within minutes they were on their feet again as Wales scored their second try in the space of three minutes.

Argentina's fullback Federico Serra slipped as he took a pass on half-way and Hook hacked the loose ball forward to turn Argentina on their heels.

Tom Shanklin took up the chase, twice got his boot to ball and, despite Corleto's best efforts, Mark Jones was on hand to touch down for a try confirmed by video official Romaine Poite.

Argentina wing Lucas Borges was then sent to the sin-bin after a dangerous tackle on Wales fullback Kevin Morgan, who was taken out in mid-air.

Hook slotted a simple penalty to extend Wales's advantage as Argentina struggled to recover from the hammer blow.

Martyn Williams opened the second half by putting Pichot under huge pressure and stripped the ball from the Argentina scrum-half. Shanklin spotted a gap, attacked around the fringes and broke into clear ground only to be called back for obstruction.

Todeschini slotted a second penalty to bring Argentina within a converted try and the visitors began to believe.

They took the game to the locals and managed to wrestle back the lion's share of territory and possession.

With less than three minutes remaining the Pumas forced Wales back onto their own line as Todeschini fired a brilliant penalty into touch just five metres out.

Wales hooker Matthew Rees was sin-binned for deliberate off-side as Wales threw bodies in the way in a desperate attempt to keep Argentina out.

At the third time of asking, Durand was driven over the line but Duncan Jones caused him to spill the ball, and Wales let out a collective sigh of relief as referee Chris White called for no-time.

So, in the context of the Rugby World Cup, what should we make of this strange game played under a closed roof to empty stands?

The bizarre backdrop brought to mind one of those cavernous hangars mortgaged out by the likes of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Yet on today's evidence, James Bond can stand down: neither of these two works-in-progress looks capable of holding the world to ransom.

Man of the match: All the usual suspects shone for Argentina during that second-half resurgence, with the energetic Mario Ledesma to the fore. Wales's backline looked more assured under the twin leadership of James Hook and Gareth Thomas, and there were handy contributions from Tom Shanklin. Ian Gough, Alix Popham and Alun-Wyn Jones took the game to Argentina's pack to devastating effect, but our man-of-the-match is the evergreen Martyn Williams. So intelligent, so industrious, so strong - so unsung!

Moment of the match: James Hook's break that led to Gareth Thomas's try was a moment of pure class, but it was upstaged by the break made by Lucas Borges that handed Ignacio Corleto his second try. It reminded the watching the world that the Argentinians can served up more than just beef.

Villain of the match: Quite a bit of niggle for a so-called 'friendly'. Lucas Borges's dangerous challenge on Kevin Morgan was ugly but perhaps not as bad as it looked - his remorse was evident for all to see. We'll hand this hideous gong to the WRU for the shambolic ticketing policy that left the bottom tier of the Millennium Stadium devoid of fans. If Brains Bitter, the team's sponsor, ever decided to host a post-match bash at their HQ, they'd be advised to exclude the WRU from the organising committee.