Wales battled back to earn a draw against a 14-man Argentina after a slow start at the Principality Stadium on Saturday to set up a winner-takes-all test in the two-match series next weekend.
Wayne Pivac had stuck with the forward pack that beat Canada the week before but made three alterations in the backs as Kieran Hardy was preferred to Tomos Williams at scrum-half, Owen Lane got the nod over Tom Rogers on the wing and Hallam Amos replaced the injured Leigh Halfpenny at full-back.
With the fresh legs in the backs it was a first start from Wales who played at a speed probably slightly too quick for their skill level with some scrappy exiting from our own 22 and some inaccurate attack, with breaks from Aaron Wainwright and Hallam Amos not turned into points.
In the end that desire to play fast led to Argentina taking the lead as Callum Sheedy took a quick half-yard 22 dropout to hold on to possession but a penalty was immediately conceded at the breakdown and Nicolas Sanchez opened the scoring, but Sheedy hit back soon after when Rodrigo Bruni was caught offside.
The Welsh fly-half managed to give his side the lead with another penalty before referee Matthew Carley took centre stage, sending Dillon Lewis and Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro to the sin bin for repeated scrummaging problems before away full-back Juan Cruz Mallia was shown a red card for a high tackle on Kieran Hardy.
Unfortunately Wales were still playing far too quickly, resulting in a tired forward pack failing to make any in-roads in the carrying game, struggling to staff attacking breakdowns and making handling errors as possession was coughed up cheaply.
Then in defence there was a lack of intensity to the blitz and some tired defensive breakdown work gave Argentina the chance to first draw level through Sanchez’s boot, and then on the stroke of half-time take the lead as a driving maul took the ball up to the try line and Pablo Matera was on hand to power over. Sanchez’s conversion made the score 6-13 at the break.
That lead was quickly extended at the start of the second half as more defensive discipline issues for Wales, as well as troubles at the scrum, gave the away side field position and Santiago Chocobares was able to carry up and get a superb offload away for Jeronimo de la Fuente to go under the posts, with Sanchez adding the extras.
Going 14 points down sparked Wayne Pivac into life and changes at half-back saw Tomos Williams and Jarrod Evans introduced, with immediate impact. First, Owen Lane was released down the left and just held up over the line, before from the resulting scrum the forwards set about their red zone attack and a penalty advantage allowed Williams to bring Will Rowlands off his shoulder to score.
Argentina had their opportunities to extend the lead, but Nicolas Sanchez and then Domingo Miotti failed to take any of nine points available, before Wales drew level when Williams sniped beautifully off the back of a scrum, sending Gonzalo Bertranou the wrong way with a left foot step and diving over. Jarrod Evans converted.
The hosts had opportunities to push for a winner as some wayward kicking from Los Pumas gave up field position, but there wasn’t quite enough cutting edge in attack to return to a scoring position until the final play of the game as Evans took on a penalty right on the edge of his range which slid just by the upright.
In the end a fair result for a game in which Argentina battled hard throughout despite playing with a man disadvantage for much of the 80 minutes, and in which Wales started poorly but improved as the match wore on. It sets up an intriguing second test next Saturday between the two sides.