After a disappointing hammering from a “beatable” New Zealand team, Wales were hoping to get their Autumn back on track with the arrival of Argentina, and they were almost immediately on the attack as a kick counter from Louis Rees-Zammit, making his first test start at fullback, sparked a break that took them up to the Pumas 22 before a handling error. Wales had the early momentum but errors continued to end their attacks, while the Puma’s first attack saw them break into the 22 and draw a penalty, which Emiliano Boffelli kicked for the early lead. Welsh indiscipline soon had the Pumas back in the hosts’ 22, and Rees-Zammit was forced to cover a clever grubber into touch right in front of his try line, while another penalty at the lineout allowed Boffelli another simple kick at goal. A knock-on at the breakdown from Gonzalo Bertranou gifted Wales a scrum going into the second quarter, from which they won a penalty and went to the corner, but after the first attack was stopped illegally and they went back to the corner, Matias alemanno managed a timely steal in the air to allow the visitors to clear their lines. Wales were soon back on the attack though, only for Ken Owens to spill the ball as he went over. Another penalty on the half hour saw Wales go to the corner, and this time they were able to get the driving maul going, giving Taulupe Faletau an easy ride over for the opening try, with Gareth Anscombe’s conversion giving them the lead, while he kicked another penalty 3 minutes before halftime for a 10-6 lead at the break.
The second half started much like the first, but when Juan Cruz Mallia failed to get any height on his kick, Tomos Williams successfully charged it down and beat the fullback on the trn to dive on the ball in-goal to extend the lead. The Pumas responded by bringing on a new front row, who immediately won a scrum penalty, but after the Pumas went to the corner, Adam Beard won a crucial turnover penalty. The Pumas were soon back attacking the Welsh try line, and after a clear high tackle on Ignacio Ruiz was ignored by the officials, Pablo Matera was held up over the line. As Argentina looked to get their next attack going, a cynical play on the scrumhalf from Will Rowlands while he was off his feet saw the lock sent to the bin and allowed the Pumas to kick back into the Welsh 22, only for Pablo Matera to knock on as he slipped as the ball was passed to him. Errors continued to blight the Pumas’ second half, and with Rhys Priestland kicking a penalty just after the hour, they were now even losing their 10-minute powerplay. But a strong rolling maul just moments after Rowland’s return saw Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro escorted over for the try with 12 minutes remaining and Boffelli’s conversion cut the lead to 7. A poor exit at the restart from replacement scrum half Eliseo Morales on his debut gifted Wales a lineout in the 22, and when they went for a clever chip into the middle, Mallia just beat George North to the ball on the try line. As the game reached the final minutes, the Pumas had possession on halfway but were unable to create any line breaks, and as the clock went red, Wales turned them over and kicked out for a much-needed 20-13 victory.
Zam the man
While Wayne Pivac’s constant chopping and changing means that you can never quite be sure, pretty much everyone else will be in agreement that wales have found their new 15 in Louis Rees-Zammit.
The Gloucester speedster has made a name for himself with some incredible performances on the wing, but has been known to go missing for Wales out there as their team have sometimes struggle to get the attack going. However right from the start, it was clear that the move to 15 was one that would see him much more involved in the game.
While everyone knows about his incredible pace, he also has a great eye to spot the gap to exploit to start a break, is more than capable of competing in the air—he certainly held his own against Emiliano Boffelli today—and has a big boot to play his part in the kicking game.
But more than that, it’s a simple matter of getting the best players on the pitch at the same time, and by moving to 15, it allows both Alex Cuthbert and Rio Dyer to cover the wings, resulting in 2 strong and quick wings who can cause problems out wide or coming inside and a lightning quick 15 just looking for a gap, who can also hold his own in contact.
Wales will face tougher tests, and still need to work on how to utilise Rees-Zammit better, but a move to 15 seems a strong start.
Is it time for Argentina to make a change at their restarts? Usually, you will see the fly half kicking the restarts, but there is no law that this has to be the case. It’s understandable why, as it means that if the ball is won back, there is a playmaker who has naturally been held back at the restart and not involved in the chase, but at this level of the game, there are more than enough players who could temporarily fill in as a playmaker for one phase at the restart.
Santiago Carreras is a fantastic player with an incredible skillset, but pretty much all of his professional experience as a fly half has come at this level, and you do see some errors in his game as a result, including a tendency to float a couple of restarts too long and into touch on the full. Meanwhile, his performances at Gloucester have highlighted his quality in the air, with him often being used to compete at the restart, as Boffelli often is.
What I would suggest is looking for an alternative option to take the restarts, which would free up Carreras to join Boffelli in trying to compete for the ball, while also allowing them to vary things up more as opposition teams would have to account for both of them if they moved around at the restart.
Right now, I feel that Carreras needs some of the pressure taken off him while he learns a new position on the hardest stage. If this small change can not just relieve pressure on him, but also utilise his skills to add an extra weapon at the restart, surely that’s a win-win.