Wales made it three from three on this summer’s tour of the Americas with a second win over Argentina in a week. Just over a year out from the World Cup, Welsh rugby is in a positive place right now.
After last Saturday’s first test victory against Los Pumas, many thought Warren Gatland might have moved away from his pre-planned policy of rotating the squad in order to give everyone a game, but he stuck firmly by his guns with five changes to the starting XV.
Ryan Elias and Tomas Francis got their first starts of the tour in the front row, while Aled Davies also made his first start at scrum-half. Ellis Jenkins and Owen Watkin returned to the lineup after sitting out the first test in San Juan.
Despite the changes to the team there was little change to the performance early on, as Wales dominated possession and territory in the first 10 minutes, with Rhys Patchell slotting a penalty to get the scoreboard up and running.
Once again, the away side’s defensive organisation was putting pressure on an Argentinian attack that seemed to lack all confidence, and on turnover ball Aled Davies kicked well for Josh Adams to chase, eventually winning another penalty on the floor which Patchell kicked for a 6-0 lead.
Although Patchell missed a kick on his third attempt, it would eventually work out for the best as Wales came back from the 22 drop out to set up camp on the Argentine 10 metre line.
When a loose pass seemed to end the attack, Josh Adams managed to scoop up possession, carry back towards the halfway line and then slice through the blue and white jerseys to score a memorable first international try. Cory Hill and Tomas Francis were rightly cleared of blocking, and Patchell added the extras for a 13-0 lead.
Staring down the barrel of a heavy series defeat, Argentina tried to get back into the game as Matias Orlandi launched a dangerous attack down the right wing. However, inaccuracies with handling, set piece work and at the breakdown led to the danger disappearing quickly as Wales returned to the red zone and won another penalty for Patchell to dissect the posts.
Aside from the tempo and directness of the away team, a pleasing aspect for Wales was how Ellis Jenkins and James Davies combined as the two opensides selected, and it was them that secured a fifth kick-able penalty as the Scarlet slowed the ball down on one phase, before the Cardiff Blue won the turnover on the next. Patchell made it 19-0.
With half-time looming, Argentina finally made it into the game. Number eight Javier Desio was able to get outside Scott Williams at outside centre and make a good amount of metres. As Wales formed up, Ross Moriarty tried to kill the attack with a spot blitz, but Guido Petti managed to evade him and carry through the gap left before finding Bautista Delguy to score.
Nicolas Sanchez missed the conversion, but Los Pumas had made the scoreboard and had something to take into the half-time break.
Wales were still firmly in the driving seat though, and established that within two minutes of the second half starting when Rhys Patchell nailed a penalty from just inside his own half.
As the game settled down there was again the issue of handling errors from Argentina, as they struggled to build any momentum after their try at the end of the first period. They seemed to lack the intensity and confidence to put the Welsh defence under any serious pressure, and when the visitors turned the screw at the scrum, the lead was stretched to 25-5.
Then, with attacking position inside the Argentina half, Wales struck with ball-in-hand. Ellis Jenkins set up quick ball, before some superb handling from Scott Williams, Hallam Amos, Ross Moriarty released George North down the left wing. The soon-to-be Osprey drew the final defender before Amos popped back up on his inside for a second Welsh try.
That try effectively ended the game as a contest some 20 minutes from full-time, as Wales started to utilise their replacement bench and the momentum of the game struggled to recover. Argentina continued to struggle with possession retention, finishing the game having conceded a whopping 23 turnovers, as the players lurched from set piece to set piece.
In the end the only real action left was to come after the clock had turned red, with Wales still pushing penalties into the corner with the aim of inflicting even greater pain on Argentina in front of their home fans.
As players moved away from a ruck on the right wing, Nicolas Sanchez had a little dig at Ross Moriarty, with the Welsh number eight reacting by putting the home fly-half in some kind of wrestling hold and refusing to let go despite the attention of the assistant referee. In the end, after some more handbags were thrown, refere Jaco Peyper dismissed the Dragons-bound back-rower from the field.
With a man disadvantage, Wales could not stop Argentina marching down into the red zone, and after yet another sloppy set piece, replacement hooker Julian Montoya was very fortunate to find himself with possession and a wide open blindside to score in the corner. Sanchez kicked the extras, but the score still showed a 12-30 away victory.
A sour note to end the tour upon, but it doesn’t take away from the huge positives on the table for Warren Gatland as the World Cup comes hurtling towards us at an alarming rate.
Were Argentina really top level opposition? No they weren’t, and Wales will face much tougher tests between now and September 2019, but the confidence gleamed from the last three weeks will do no harm to this squad and the coaching staff, as well as the general Welsh rugby public.
Without the likes of Ken Owens, Samson Lee, Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton, Justin Tipuric, Taulupe Faletau, Dan Biggar, Jon Davies, Liam Williams and Leigh Halfpenny the squad have stepped up superbly, and Gatland now has a plethora of options at his disposal in most positions around the field.
Equally pleasing will be the style of rugby played over the last three games, with some excellent tries scored being capped off by Hallam Amos’ effort on Saturday. The acid test for Wales will now come in the Autumn though, with Australia and South Africa coming to Cardiff, while Tonga and Scotland present potential banana peels.