By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
In a nutshell
WARREN GATLAND’S mantra is paying off for Argentina – but not Wales. Gatland has long said that Wales can only get better by playing the best in the world – New Zealand, Australia and South Africa. While they’ve been doing that every year, they are still achieving success in peaks – followed by troughs. The Pumas, though, have clearly benefited from playing in the Rugby Championship and the intensity they brought to Cardiff allowed them to dictate the game. They scored two tries to none – Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho crossing – and eased to victory in the second half.
Imhoff’s 55th-minute try, where the wing scythed past Sam Warburton, George North and Leigh Halfpenny to score under the posts, lifted Argentina’s spirits and they never looked back. From that point on, they lifted the intensity, added another try and made Wales – the Grand Slam champions – look distinctly average.
Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was the official Man of the Match – it’s hard to think of a time when he hasn’t produced a world-class performance – but Camacho’s finish just before the hour deserves high praise. He showed great athleticism, balance and awareness to put the ball down in the corner as Halfpenny came in to tackle him into touch.
Room for improvement
Wales could improve in every facet. Jamie Roberts had to depart after a nasty blow to the head in the 24th minute and after that Wales struggled to cross the gain-line. Toby Faletau aside, they need to find some ball-carriers before Friday’s game against Samoa. Ryan Jones being fit would help them in this area – he always makes yards – while North and Alex Cuthbert should be used more on the angle in midfield.
They also need to be patient in going wide. There’s no point spreading the ball unless you’ve gone forward – make yards in midfield and then use the wide men. Mike Phillips tried to do this when he arrived midway through the second half.
A final point for Wales: start playing from the first minute not the 75th. Wales’ best passage of play came in the last five minutes and they put Argentina under serious pressure in their own 22 – but they need to replicate that intensity throughout the game. It all came too little, too late in this Test match.
As for Argentina, their involvement in the Rugby Championship has clearly agreed with them but they should play with a little more confidence. It was only after they scored the first try that they really upped the tempo and lifted their heads. After that try they never looked like losing. Before it, Wales looked like winning.
In quotes – winners
Argentina coach Santiago Phelan: “We took the initiative in the first half and in the first 20 minutes of the second half played very well. The intensity of the game was very high but the Argentina players have learnt how to play at that level from the Rugby Championship.”
In quotes – losers
Wales interim coach Rob Howley: “I’m disappointed, frustrated and annoyed. We know we’re a better side than that. We spoke about intensity and the tempo of the game but we looked one-paced. It’s a test of character now – it’s important we dust ourselves off and look forward to the challenge of Samoa.”
Argentina made nearly double the amount of offloads as Wales – seven to 13 – and made five clean breaks to none from Wales.
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts (James Hook 24), George North; Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle (Mike Phillips 56); Gethin Jenkins (Ryan Bevington 69), Matthew Rees (Richard Hibbard 63), Aaron Jarvis (Paul James 63), Alun Wyn Jones (Rob McCusker 40), Ian Evans, Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton (captain), Toby Faletau.
Pens: Halfpenny 4.
ARGENTINA: Juan Martin Hernandez (Horacio Agulla 46); Gonzalo Camacho, Gonzalo Tiesi, Felipe Contepomi (Joaquin Tuculet 14), Juan Imhoff; Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo (Nicolas Vergallo 67); Marcos Ayerza (Bruno Postiglioni 79), Eusebio Guinazu (Agustin Creevy 49), Juan Figallo (Juan Gomez 67), Manuel Carizza, Juan Francisco Cabello (Tomas Vallejos 65), Leonardo Senatore (Tomas Leonardi 57), Juan Martin Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain).
Tries: Imhoff, Camacho. Cons: Sanchez 2. Pens: Contepomi, Sanchez. DG: Sanchez 2.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)