Wales and Pumas eye World Cup boost
August 19, 2011
Warren Gatland's Wales tackle the Pumas in their last outing ahead of next month's Rugby World Cup © Getty Images
Wales will look to build on their morale-boosting victory over England last weekend when they play host to Argentina at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Success against their Six Nations rivals helped to lift the injury gloom that has plagued much of their World Cup preparations with hooker Matthew Rees and centre Gavin Henson the high-profile casualties. The result, that followed a defeat to England at Twickenham in their opening warm-up clash, handed Warren Gatland's side some priceless momentum with the big one just around the corner and victory in this latest clash will leave them well-placed ahead of their World Cup opener against a currently mis-firing South Africa on September 11.
Standing between them and that eagerly-anticipated showdown with the Springboks are a Pumas side heavy on talent but desperately short on game time. An unfamiliar side recorded big wins in the South American Championship in May before a stronger looking line-up accounted for a South American XV more recently. It was no surprise to see the big guns recalled for this game with seven survivors from their headline-grabbing 2007 Rugby World Cup campaign set for action in Cardiff with just one other outing against Premiership side Worcester on their schedule.
The Pumas have also had their fair share of injury woe with star playmaker Juan Martin Hernandez set to miss the World Cup, which for the Pumas kicks off against England on September 10.
Wales - Player to Watch: Tight-head Adam Jones returns to Wales' front row for the first time since the Six Nations having recovered from a toe injury. A key part of his side's arsenal on his day, he could serve a World Cup warning with a timely return to form.
Wales - Team News: Ryan Jones was set to lead the side from No.8 before a calf complaint saw Andy Powell drafted in and the captaincy handed to flanker Martyn Williams. Dan Lydiate retains his place in the back-row while fullback Lee Byrne and wing Leigh Halfpenny also return to the fray. Adam Jones is joined by hooker Richard Hibbard and loose-head Paul James in an all-Ospreys front-row. Bradley Davies comes into the second-row engine room alongside Alun Wyn Jones. Tavis Knoyle takes over at scrum-half from Mike Phillips, James Hook moves from fullback to fly-half in the place of Rhys Priestland while George North switches wings to make way for the returning Halfpenny. Jamie Roberts switches to the No.12 shirt with Jonathan Davies taking the outside centre berth. Stephen Jones was a late withdrawal from the Welsh bench with Scott Williams taking his place.
Argentina - Player to Watch: Fly-half Felipe Contepomi returns to pull the strings for the Pumas in what will be his 70th Test cap. Almost always a key figure with boot and ball, the prospect of another World Cup challenge is sure to bring the best out of him.
Argentina - Team News: Argentina make six changes to the side that crushed the Consur XV on August 6, with prop Rodrigo Roncero, hooker Mario Ledesma, lock Patricio Albacete, back-row forwards Juan Manuel Leguizamon and Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe and Contepomi all back in action. Contepomi will lead the side and will be partnered at half-back by Nicolas Vergallo. They will be joined in the backs by new Exeter Chiefs winger Gonzalo Camacho and Leicester Tigers' Horacio Agulla on the opposite flank. In the centres, Santiago Fernandez lines up alongside Marcelo Bosch - one of 12 players based in France's Top 14 in the line-up. Regular first-team centre Gonzalo Tiesi will miss the clash due to a shoulder injury.
Key Battle: Expect no quarter to be given in the battle for World Cup momentum - especially in the front row that will see the likes of Roncero, Ledesma and Figallo set to go head-to-head with the Welsh trio of James, Hibbard and Jones.
Trivia: Martyn Williams has captained Wales on seven previous occasions but has only led them to victory on one occasion - against Scotland in 2009.
Stats: Argentina's Felipe Contepomi is preparing for his fourth World Cup appearance having made his tournament bow at the Millennium Stadium in 1999 against Japan.
"We have to make sure everyone is putting their bodies on the line. It's going to be brutal."
"We think our players are in very good condition to be competitive at the World Cup. I think we have good players but sometimes it is difficult when we meet on a Monday and have to play on a Saturday."
Prediction: A bullish Wales look good for another World Cup boost with an in-form James Hook set to exploit an under-cooked Pumas side and guide the hosts to another important win.
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Craig Dowd warns England, Ireland and Wales they should play to their strengths rather than those of the All Blacks and the Wallabies
Tom Hamilton runs the rule over just where the six countries stand ahead of the global gathering in September