Monday 22 January 2018

Halfpenny star turn in Wales romp


IAN MALIN at the Millennium Stadium

Under the roof in Cardiff this was a balm for Wales after last Saturday's bruising encounter with the Springboks. Australia is the scalp Warren Gatland's team really wants this autumn but Wales were ruthless against a side that recently lost their coach and are now losing their way.

Argentina showed more ambition than at Twickenham a week earlier but they struggled to cope with the pace and power of a Welsh side beaten here by the Pumas a year ago. Four tries and 20 points from the boot of Leigh Halfpenny put Wales in good heart for another physical examination by Tonga on Friday.

Dan Biggar, left out of the squad against South Africa, was assured at fly-half, carrying on from where he left off against England here last March. But Cory Allen, the 20-year-old Cardiff Blues centre, making a debut in place of Jonathan Davies and who had linked well with the abrasive Scott Williams, dislocated his shoulder and Wales are fast running out of replacements. Williams himself damaged a ligament in his toe and may be a doubt for the Tonga match.

That apart Gatland was happy with the performance. "The opposition was not as strong as last week but in the past we may have been guilty of dropping down a level. But we have put away a good Championship side. But when opportunities arise we want players to move the ball. We missed a couple of chances."

The defeat by South Africa resulted in three of last summer's Lions Test players missing the match against the Pumas with the loss of the tighthead prop Adam Jones especially galling for Wales.

Much, then, was expected of Gethin Jenkins, Wales's loosehead who led the team out on the occasion of his 100th cap 11 years after making his debut against Romania in Wrexham. Jenkins is 33 today and can allow himself a glass or two after standing up to a fierce test from Montpellier's Maximiliano Bustos.

Wales had the perfect start when, after an early penalty from Halfpenny, Richard Hibbard gave them an opportunity with a teeth-rattling tackle on the Argentina fly-half Nicolas Sanchez. The ball bounced free just outside the Wales '22' and into the hands of Mike Phillips. The scrum-half does not have a club at the moment and he advertised his talents with an 80-metre run, pursued by wing Santiago Cordero, who is no slouch but could not stop Phillips from falling gratefully over the line.

Wales could afford to lose Justin Tipuric for 10 minutes when the flanker, in the side in place of another of those injured players, Dan Lydiate, was sent to the sin-bin for obstruction after a dazzling run by Cordero. Nothing, though, was going right for Argentina, with Sanchez's penalty striking a post while Halfpenny landed another kick to stretch Wales's lead.

When Alun Wyn Jones won the ball from a lineout, Phillips slipped an inside-pass to George North as a huge gap opened up in front of the Northampton wing who fully exploited it. Halfpenny converted. It was early in the second quarter. Wales had a 20-point lead and the game was as good as won.

Another Hibbard tackle just before the interval left the Argentina full-back Joaquin Tuculet looking groggy and he did not return after the interval but there was a worrying sight for Wales, too, after the break when North needed treatment after colliding with the knee of Patricio Albacete. North thankfully recovered but Argentina were wobbling when Halfpenny gave Liam Williams the chance for a run down the left touchline.

The Scarlets wing had the vision to deliver a perfect inside pass for Toby Faletau, who was steaming up behind him. The No8 scored a third try, which Halfpenny had no trouble converting.

Even the Argentina scrum was struggling by now and when Wales's replacement hooker Ken Owens was driven over from a lineout the Pumas' misery was complete.

Scorers – Wales: M Phillips, G North, T Faletau, K Owens try each, L Halfpenny 4 cons, 4 pens. Argentina: N Sanchez 2 pens.

Wales: L Halfpenny, G North, C Allen (A Beck 72), S Andrews, L Williams, D Biggar (J Hook 69), M Phillips (L Williams 68); G Jenkins (S Lee 68), R Hibbard (K Owens 62), R Jones (P James 68), B Davies (L Charteris 57), A-W Jones, S Warburton, J Tipuric, T Faletau (RP Jones 74).

Argentina: J Tuculet (L Amorosino 40), H Agulla, M Bosch, S Fernandez (G Ascarate 58), S Cordero, N Sanchez, M Landajo (T Cubelli 69); M Ayerza (N Lobo 72), E Guinazu (S Iglesias 65), M Bustos (M Diaz 73), M Carizza (T Lavanini 65), P Albacete, P Matera (L Senatore 54), J F Cabello, J M Leguizamon.

Referee: John Lacey (Ireland).


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