Wales produced an eye-catching performance against Argentina to claim an impressive win.
Fans of many teams, not least those supporting Wales, are well-aware of the saying, “It’s the hope that kills.”
However, on this tour, there was little hope. In fact, many fans seemed to be approaching the three weeks away in the Americas as nothing more than a damage limitation exercise.
A successful outing against South Africa last weekend, where Wales took the field with one of the most makeshift of makeshift teams, was the curtain raiser for two Tests against Argentina.
No real fears
Wales’ record against these opponents is pretty good. Played 17, lost 5. They have “toured” Argentina twice prior to this current adventure. A two Test Tour in 2001, drawn 1-1 and a two Test loss in 2006, and also one in 1999.
Even without this record, it was obviously going to be a tough ask, compounded by the fact that Wales had left a number of their top players at home to rest or recuperate from injury.
Factor in the impressive form of the Jaguars in Super Rugby – Argentina operate a rigid policy of not playing players based abroad – and the 23-10 victory for Wales came as more than a surprise.
Tries for James Davies and George North were topped up by ten points from the boot of Rhys Patchell. It was an impressive display, especially in the first half when Wales had basically killed off the game, going in at the break 17-3 up.
Warren Gatland and his coaching team had stressed from the off that this tour was all about building strength in depth. In fact it would be more accurate to say Wales are building on the strength in depth they had developed over the last year.
Young Guns shine
Up front Dillon Lewis anchored the scrum very well. He was also highly impressive in the loose, carrying well and displaying a rugby intelligence that belied his years.
He was partnered by Elliott Dee, who once again showed much-needed dynamism around the field, contributing to the team playing a high temp, highly skilled brand of rugby on times.
In the second row, Adam Beard and Corey Hill both had big games. Against a monster pack, such as the Argentinians fielded last night, it was vital that the second rows made their presence felt.
Beard, was a notable presence in defence, making 17 tackles, and carrying well too. Corey Hill also further enhanced his reputation with another excellent all-round display.
Not much more could have been asked of the back row either. Whilst James Davies proved he has upped the physical aspects of his game, winning two excellent turnovers in the first half, they played incredibly well as a unit. This in spite of the fact that they had no previous game time together.
The best teams these days, approach the breakdown as an aspect of the game all players must get involved in. It was pleasing to see the likes of Dillon Lewis, Josh Adams and Rob Evans, replacing the injured Wyn Jones at the last minute, all put in a real shift in that aspect of the game.
The backs make a contribution of their own
Only half of the story was told there though. At half-back club team mates Gareth Davies and Rhys Patchell looked assured. There were some moments of frustration from Davies, but overall these two players controlled the game for most of the time they were on the field together.
Patchell varied his tactics well, employing a decent kicking game from hand, and passing well to get an exciting back-line moving. When Anscombe took the field, there was little change in that regard, with one sublime pass to Josh Adams almost leading to another superb try.
Special praise must also be reserved for Hadleigh Parkes. There is little to be termed spectacular from him, but he has the all-round skills required to make that 12 shirt his own for the rest of his career at the top-level.
And these skills were all on display – physicality in defence and with the ball in hand, excellent kicking and a range of passing skills that kept the team ticking along nicely,
Performance and result a surprise
In some respects, it was hard to see where this performance came from. But it is encouraging to see the team trying to move their game forwards from the stodgy, predictable Warrenball employed for too long under Gatland. It was especially pleasing to see the performance from a newish, young team too.
But they were prepared to put in the hard work too. Wales made 223 tackles, to Argentina’s 94, and completed 90% of them. They were also on the wrong end of the possession and territory stats too, once again. Argentina controlled 2 thirds of both of those areas of the game.
Is that a reflection of how Argentina lacked any real potency, scoring only one try in the 78th minute? There would be some of that. But as previously mentioned, this is a squad that plays week in, week out in Super Rugby. Playing against a team who have had a very short period of time to gel on tour.
Overall, the management and players will be pleased with that result. Questions were asked about how Gatland could establish any momentum on tour, leading up to the World Cup. But momentum is best served by winning Test matches, especially the tough ones they are winning now.
There are some concerns, still, the baffling decision to play Seb Davies at blindside being one of them. But this isn’t about the here and now. It’s fantastic news for Welsh rugby that they are able to come away to Argentina, with a side shorn of talent, and win convincingly.
But these wins will mean nothing, if they aren’t used as part of a process of creating a squad capable of challenging for honours in Japan 2019. It’s not just the wins that are important, it’s the belief instilled in every member of that squad that they are capable of wearing that red shirt and performing well should their time come.
It lies in the knowledge that the new style that Wales are attempting to play will be the one they use more often than not, and that players are comfortable playing it. And there’s also a need for players to know that when they are playing on form, they have a good chance of selection, in the positions they are comfortable playing in.
All eyes on 2019
It’s a clinched term, but every team is on a journey to Japan 2019. That journey has reached the last leg, and there is no room now for any inconsistency. The more this team wins, the more confident they’ll become, and the closer they’ll be as a squad too.
In the goldfish bowl that is Welsh rugby that’s a vital requirement. There’s one more game to come, before a well-earned break. A victory would top off a decent tour for Wales. A defeat with more evidence of progress wouldn’t be the end of the world.
These games won’t mean a lot if the team fails horribly in 2019. There are more positives to take from this victory, but there is still plenty to do. Right now things are looking up for Wales.
Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli; Bautista Delguy, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo de la Fuente, Ramiro Moyano; Nicolas Sanchez, Gonzalo Bertranou; Santiago Garcia Botta, Agustin Creevey (capt), Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Pablo Matera, Marcos Kremer, Javier Ortega Desio.
Replacements: Julian Montoya, Javier Diaz, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Martin Landajo, Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, Sebastien Cancelliere.
Wales: Hallam Amos; Josh Adams, Scott Williams, Hadleigh Parkes, George North; Rhys Patchell, Gareth Davies; Rob Evans, Elliot Dee, Dillon Lewis, Adam Beard, Cory Hill (capt), Seb Davies, James Davies, Ross Moriarty.
Replacements: Ryan Elias, Nicky Smith, Tomas Francis, Josh Turnbull, Aaron Wainwright, Aled Davies, Gareth Anscombe, Owen Watkin.