Friday 20 April 2018

Injury woes leave Pumas counting cost of success

Wales 12
Argentina 26

James Corrigan

IRELAND's November schedule never looked particularly easy, but by inflicting this comprehensive defeat on the Six Nations champions, Argentina have upped the ante ahead of their visit to Dublin on Saturday week.

The victory came at a cost, though, with Felipe Contepomi's career in doubt after a serious knee injury and Juan Martin Hernandez facing a race to be fit for their visit to France next weekend.

But for Santiago Phelan and his Pumas, this was one to savour. The newcomers came up just short so often on their introduction to the Rugby Championship during the summer, but finally got the win their play deserved in Cardiff.

Wales left the Millennium Stadium ruing their mistakes, but for the tourists this was further justification of their rising status as they laid down the gauntlet in the jostling for ranking positions with Ireland ahead of next month's World Cup 2015 pool draw.

There are Stephen King obsessives who would not envy Wales the video nasty they must sit through today. Rob Howley can only pray this shocker jolts them into life. If they do not absorb the lessons from their mauling, they could face a long and calamitous autumn series, with Samoa awaiting on Friday and New Zealand and Australia to follow.

The problems did not end with Wales' fourth defeat in a row, a humbling reversal that featured Argentina scoring 20 unanswered points in the last half hour.

There were injury concerns as well for Howley. With defeat against the Pacific Islanders unthinkable, the interim coach must name his best team tomorrow. But with the medics checking out Jamie Roberts' concussion and Alun-Wyn Jones' shoulder, Howley could be forced to delve even deeper into Wales' inadequate reserves.

True to Welsh tradition, the accusatory finger already focuses on a few individuals. While Barry John said "sluggish" captain Sam Warburton typified a group of players "living on past reputations," others targeted Rhys Priestland for his ineffectiveness at out-half. Howley's role was also questioned.

With Warren Gatland on Lions duty, watching Ireland's defeat by the Springboks, many inevitably wondered about the prudence in leaving a man in charge who has not been a club head coach. Certainly, his dropping of Mike Phillips at scrum-half seemed more baffling by the minute.

Such questions might be relevant, but what cannot be denied is the mediocrity of a display that did not feature one Welsh line break. That is a remarkable stat when one thinks of the attacking might of George North, Alex Cuthbert and Leigh Halfpenny, as well as others such as Roberts and his replacement James Hook.

But then, they were missing Adam Jones, Dan Lydiate, Jonathan Davies and Ryan Jones -- so influential in the Six Nations. Shaun Edwards, the defence coach, afterwards talked of the "disparity" between the first XV and the rest. He neglected to mention the disparity that has existed for the past few years between the national side and the Welsh regions.

This was a reality check for a Welsh Rugby Union that has been hiding behind the Grand Slam heroics. This performance represented a domestic game in turmoil. The superstars are leaving in droves and, on this evidence, the morale is disappearing with them.

Already their ambitions of a top-four seeding at the 2015 World Cup are ruined. With next month's draw based on the International Rugby Board rankings, Wales might even be outside the top eight. In that respect, the Samoa encounter takes on yet more importance. Wales simply dare not lose. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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