By Sarah Mockford, Rugby World Features Editor
WALES HAVE geared up for this autumn’s Dove Men Series with a week of gruelling training in Poland and are now hoping their tip-top conditioning programme will prove decisive in the Tests against Argentina, Samoa, New Zealand and Australia.
First up are the Pumas, fresh from their Rugby Championship inauguration, and Wales interim coach Rob Howley knows they will be better for that experience.
“The mantra under Warren Gatland is that you only get better by playing Australia, South Africa and New Zealand, and that’s exactly what Argentina have done,” says Howley. “They have world-class, quality players throughout the team. We’re aware of how good Argentina are and they will have benefited from playing those games in the Rugby Championship. They’re a very strong and physical side, but we’ve got to concentrate on what we’re good at.
“It’s great to be back playing in the Millennium Stadium – the best stadium in world rugby, our stadium – and the players are looking forward to putting sides under pressure with our passing game.”
So what will be the key battlegrounds on Saturday afternoon in Cardiff?
Strictly scrum dancing
With Adam Jones injured, Aaron Jarvis has been given the responsibility of locking the scrum. Will the Wales debutant be able to hold his own against the far more experienced Marcos Ayerza? If he can, he’ll be providing Wales with the necessary platform to launch an exciting back-line and bring their superior fitness to the fore. If not, Argentina will be able to get a foothold in the game and dictate the tempo through their forwards.
Ruck and roll
As ever, the breakdown will be key. Many wanted to see a Wales back row featuring both their super sevens – Sam Warburton and Justin Tipuric – but Howley has opted for Josh Turnbull over the Osprey.
The physicality of the Pumas is sure to have played a part in this decision. With big units like Juan Fernandez Lobbe, who will win his 50th cap, and Juan Leguizamon in the opposition back row, Wales want to ensure they won’t be overpowered at the breakdown. Brute force rather than subtlety will be key to asserting pressure early on, preventing the Pumas from slowing the ball down – and then winning those vital turnovers.
Much has been made of the selection of Rhys Priestland over Dan Biggar at fly-half. Yes, Priestland has struggled with his goalkicking this season but when you have the unerring Leigh Halfpenny in your side your fly-half’s success rate from the tee is far less important.
Wales believe Priestland is the one who can get the best out of the back-line so he has the ten shirt. It’s now a case of whether he vindicates the selection or falters under the pressure. The in-form back three of Halfpenny, Alex Cuthbert and George North will be looking to help him do the former.
As for the Pumas, Gonzalo Camacho was one of the standout players of the Rugby Championship, constantly becoming involved and making darting runs. Still, Argentina managed only seven tries in their six games and, with a kicking success rate of less than 50% in the tournament, will need to up their attacking game to topple the Grand Slam champs.
Prediction: If Aaron Jarvis can gain parity at scrum time, Wales look to have the back-line to overcome a powerful Pumas team. Wales to win by ten.
WALES v ARGENTINA, Saturday 10 November, 2.30pm, Millennium Stadium, Live on BBC1
WALES: Leigh Halfpenny; Alex Cuthbert, Scott Williams, Jamie Roberts, George North; Rhys Priestland, Tavis Knoyle; Gethin Jenkins, Matthew Rees, Aaron Jarvis, Alun Wyn Jones, Ian Evans, Josh Turnbull, Sam Warburton (captain), Toby Faletau.
Replacements: Richard Hibbard, Ryan Bevington, Paul James, Rob McCusker, Justin Tipuric, Mike Phillips, James Hook, Liam Williams.
ARGENTINA: Juan Martin Hernandez; Gonzalo Camacho, Gonzalo Tiesi, Felipe Contepomi, Juan Imhoff; Nicolas Sanchez, Martin Landajo; Marcos Ayerza, Eusebio Guinazu, Juan Figallo, Manuel Carizza, Juan Francisco Cabello, Leonardo Senatore, Juan Martin Leguizamon, Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (captain).
Replacements: Agustin Creevy, Bruno Postiglioni, Juan Gomez, Tomas Vallejos, Tomas Leonardi, Nicolas Vergallo, Horacio Agulla, Joaquin Tuculet.
Referee: Romain Poite (France)