Wales battle past Argentina
August 20, 2011
Wales scrum-half Tavis Knoyle was named man of the match after an energetic display in Cardiff
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Wales stepped up their preparations for the Rugby World Cup with a 28-13 victory over Argentina at the Millennium Stadium on Saturday.
The Pumas dominated for long periods in the first half and should have had more than a solitary penalty goal from captain Felipe Contepomi for their efforts. However, the normally reliable fly-half missed two other strikes on goal, while centre Marcelo Bosch also sliced a drop goal attempt wide.
The visitors' profligacy was then punished in sensational style in the closing stages of a largely uneventful opening period, lock Alun-Wyn Jones putting No.8 Andy Powell away to score on 35 minutes before then crossing himself just after the restart following a surge down the left flank by winger George North.
Buoyed by those two well-timed scores, Wales bossed the second period, their rock-solid scrum laying the foundation for a victory which was sealed nine minutes from time when wing George North forced his way over from close range. Argentina did manage a consolation score late on when replacement front-row Martin Scelzo applied the downward pressure after a fine rolling maul crashed over the Welsh line but the bite had long since been taken out of the Pumas' performance by that point as the hosts concluded their World Cup warm-up scheduled with an ultimately comfortable win.
However, both sides though will need to find at least another gear before their tournament openers against South Africa and England respectively. Gatland will welcome back several of his big guns for that Springboks clash in Wellington on September 11 - the likes of Shane Williams, Mike Phillips and Sam Warburton - and they will head to New Zealand following a strong August showing that has also seen them account for England. Mercifully for Gatland, there were no fresh injuries to wreak havoc with his plans for the tournament. He has already lost Gavin Henson, Matthew Rees and Morgan Stoddart from his World Cup plans, while the likes of Gethin Jenkins, Ryan Jones, Stephen Jones and Rhys Priestland have been nursing various ailments.
But Wales appeared to emerge unscathed from a largely disappointing encounter, while Argentina offered little to suggest they will revisit the heights of their last World Cup campaign when they finished third after beating France twice. Contepomi missed an early penalty for the Pumas, yet Argentina still established an impressive rhythm as Lee Byrne was forced into making a try-saving tackle and the Wales forwards encountered difficulty at the breakdown. It was an impressive opening by Argentina, whose trademark forward power quickly surfaced to give Wales plenty of food for thought.
When Wales had possession they were guilty of forcing passes, and their high error-count merely played into Argentina's hands. The only positive note for a disjointed home team was that they remained on level terms approaching the end of an unspectacular opening quarter.
Wales appeared gripped by nerves and hesitancy ahead of Gatland's squad announcement, with mistakes riddling their performance. It was a fact underlined when Byrne kicked into touch on the full under no pressure from outside his 22.
Contepomi broke the deadlock 10 minutes before half-time, although he needed a slice of fortune when his angled penalty went over via an upright. It was a deserved lead for the Pumas, who continued to enjoy territorial supremacy, but Wales hit back on the stroke of half-time with a stylish response.
Their forwards initially made the hard yards, with lock Jones delivering a scoring pass to Powell, who galloped over from 20 metres out. And before Argentina could recover, Jones found himself on the end of North's pass as Wales posted a second try in 90 seconds, both converted by Hook.
Argentina made two half-time substitutions, which included a chance for their former Northampton forward Scelzo, but Wales continued to build, with a 47th-minute Hook penalty making it 17-3. The Pumas, having conceded 17 points so quickly, began to lose their shape, and Wales could sense more scoring opportunities as they grew increasingly confident with ball in hand.
Hook sacrificed a kickable penalty by opting for touch deep inside Argentina's 22 instead, yet even though Wales lost the ensuing lineout, they were soon back on the front foot. Another successful Hook penalty took Wales into a 20-3 lead, and there appeared no way back for the Pumas, whose early promise had evaporated.
Things went from bad to worse for the visitors when their experienced No.8 Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe was sin-binned by referee Romain Poite after taking out Jones in mid-air. It was the cue for a double Welsh substitution as an out-of-sorts Byrne made way for Aled Brew - Leigh Halfpenny went to fullback - and Jonathan Thomas replaced flanker Dan Lydiate. Further Welsh changes ensued, including Test debuts for scrum-half Lloyd Williams and flanker Justin Tipuric, and Wales quickly added a third try through the impressive North.
Argentina, by now well beaten, then produced a close-range consolation try for Scelzo that Contepomi converted, before Hook ended the scoring by completing his penalty hat-trick.
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