Wales braced for Pumas challenge
November 8, 2012
Caretaker coach Rob Howley will guide Wales into battle against Argentina on Saturday © PA Photos
Wales caretaker coach Rob Howley will be hoping to lay down an impressive marker when he sends his side into battle against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
Howley will take charge of the side for the Pumas clash and next weekend's date with Samoa with regular coach Warren Gatland set to concentrate on surveying his options for the British & Irish Lions before returning to the hot-seat for the games against New Zealand and Australia.
Wales enter their opening autumn international having failed to build on their Six Nations Grand Slam success on their summer tour of Austraila. Errors proved costly in a closely-fought series that eventually saw the Wallabies claim a 3-0 triumph and they require a swift return to winning ways if they are to push for a priceless top four spot in the IRB rankings and with it a preferable Rugby World Cup draw.
Argentina embark on their latest tour on the back of their debut alongside their southern hemisphere rivals in the Rugby Championship. The Pumas were unable to notch a win but a draw with South Africa and several other eye-catching displays more than warranted their promotion to the competition. Time will tell if that gutsy effort took its toll on the players with clashes against France and Ireland to follow in the coming weeks and the Pumas also in a rankings dog-fight in a bid to cement their pace in the second tier of the rankings - 5th-8th - for the eagerly awaited pool draw.
Wales - Player to Watch: With a high-profile move to France's Top 14 reportedly in the pipeline that may impact on his international chances moving forward, Jamie Roberts will be keen to underline his worth in what will be his first Test outing since the Six Nations.
Wales - Team News: Wales make seven changes from their last Test against Australia in June with Ospreys tight-head Aaron Jarvis handed his Test debut with Adam Jones sidelined by a knee injury. Elsewhere, Scarlets flanker Josh Turbull makes just his second start with the Dragons' Dan Lydiate (ankle) and the Ospreys' Ryan Jones (shoulder) also injured. Scarlets scrum-half Tavis Knoyle gets the nod ahead of Bayonne No.9 Mike Phillips and another Scarlet Scott Williams replaces his regional team-mate Jonathan Davies in the centre where he will partner Roberts. No.8 Toby Faletau and lock Ian Evans also return to the side in the place of Ryan Jones and Bradley Davies.
Argentina - Player to Watch: Felipe Contepomi returns to the Pumas' line-up having sat out the Rugby Championship. It was thought his international career was over but coach Santiago Phelan has welcomed the 35-year-old back into the mix. One of the world's best in his prime, can he still cut it on the international stage?
Argentina - Team News: Contepomi returns to the line-up in one of six changes to the side beaten by Australia last time out. Gonzalo Tiesi will partner Contepomi while Juan Martin Hernandez shifts from fly-half to fullback with Nicolas Sanchez handed the play-making duties. With Patricio Albacete sidelined through injury, flanker Julio Farias Cabello moves into the second row where he will link up with Manuel Carizza with Leonardo Senatore coming into the back row. In the front row Leicester's Marcos Ayerza benefits from the retirement of Rodrigo Roncero and the absence of Gomez Kodela to start on the loose-head side of the scrum alongside Eusebio Guinazu and Juan Figallo. The in-form Juan Imhoff takes the left wing slot from Horacio Agulla, with Gonzalo Camacho on the other wing.
Key Battle: Pumas talisman Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was in inspired form for much of the Rugby Championship and is sure to rise to the occasion of his 50th Test cap - but how much change will he and his back-row colleagues get out of their Welsh rivals?
Trivia: There are nine Scarlets players involved between the two match day squads on Saturday, the first time this has happened to the region since the inception of regional rugby in 2003. Argentine replacement Tomas Vallejos is the only non-Welsh Scarlet. Ospreys hold the record for most players on international duty at any one time in Wales, having fielded 14 players twice during the 2008 Six Nations.
Stats: Wales could climb to fourth in the IRB World Rankings if they win in Cardiff, France lose to Australia and England lose to Fiji on Saturday. Alternatively, a win for the visitors and a loss for seventh placed Ireland against South Africa could see Argentina swap places with them in the rankings.
"The dynamics of the team are important when you spend time together. It's about those marginal gains that you get. When you go to France and England (to play), you take yourself out of that environment."
"For this tour we had a special agreement with the French union about not taking more than two players from each club (for each game), and in some clubs we have more players so we had to think what was best for this game as they have club games in France."
Prediction: Wales look primed for a big end-of-year push that could see them usurp England in the top four of the IRB rankings - expect them to make a winning start but be pushed all the way by the Pumas.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
"It does sometimes get tough as you get older, but there's nothing else I'd rather do." Tom Hamilton talks to fly-half Dan Carter
Stingers, a rampaging Fijian and two Dannys looking to be champions of the world - Monday Maul looks at some key talking points
The latest Week in Pictures takes in the Top 14, Super Rugby and the Aviva Premiership with fireworks and monsters both featuring
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds