Wednesday 22 November 2017

Jamie Roberts dropped for poor defensive showing against the Wallabies

Wales' Jamie Roberts
Wales' Jamie Roberts

Andrew Baldock

Wales star Jamie Roberts has paid the price for a collective defensive performance described as "not good enough" by losing his place to face Argentina on Saturday.

Midfield mainstay Roberts has featured in 84 of Wales' past 109 Tests, starting 82 of those games, including two World Cup campaigns.

But the 30-year-old British and Irish Lions Test centre misses out against the Pumas following a 32-8 drubbing at Australia's hands last weekend, when Wales conceded five tries and suffered their heaviest home defeat since 2006.

Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley has responded by making six changes, calling up wing Liam Williams, centre Jonathan Davies, scrum-half Gareth Davies, prop Tomas Francis, lock Alun Wyn Jones and flanker Sam Warburton, but it is Roberts' omission that has commanded most attention.

Scott Williams - Roberts' midfield partner five days ago - and a fit-again Jonathan Davies form the midfield partnership this time around, with Howley offering a blunt assessment of why midfield selection surgery was required.

"There were a number of defensive errors in our game, and Jamie is defensive captain," said Howley, who is in charge this season while Warren Gatland prepares for next summer's Lions tour to New Zealand.

"So we made the decision that the standard of defence wasn't good enough and we needed a reaction, so we made a change.

"You don't look forward to dropping a player that experienced, but when you have the performance we did in that area, you have to make a change. Jamie understands that.

"In fairness to him, when we met the leadership group on Monday, he was the first player to put his hand up and said he made mistakes, so I expect a positive response if, and when, he is needed off the bench on Saturday.

"He wasn't the only one that made defensive errors, there were a few in that first half against a very potent Australian attack. I am sure we will see a response from Jamie.

"He is an integral part of our squad. For this game, the challenge is for Scott and Jonathan to play the (midfield) combination and to see if they will be selected again.

"I think it's the right team selection to play against Argentina.

"The one thing I have learnt over the last four or five years is when performances aren't up to standard, you have to make those tough decisions.

"When we sat down as a coaching team on Monday night, it was important we reflected on the performance individually and collectively.

"We have never experienced 81 per cent possession against us and only 19 per cent to us. The possession we had in the first half (against Australia) was only two minutes in the opposition half."

Elsewhere in the backs, Liam Williams returns from injury to replace Cardiff Blues wing Alex Cuthbert, while scrum-half Gareth Davies takes over from Rhys Webb, who suffered an ankle injury against Australia, with Howley confirming that Webb will undergo surgery on Friday and also miss further November games against Japan and South Africa.

Up-front, Exeter prop Francis is preferred to Scarlets tighthead Samson Lee, with Jones returning to second-row duties after being unavailable for the Wallabies encounter following the death of his father.

And Warburton teams up in the back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty, but he starts at blindside flanker instead of Dan Lydiate, rather than in the more familiar number seven shirt that Tipuric keeps on this occasion, with prop Gethin Jenkins remaining as captain despite Warburton's return to Test action.

Jenkins will become the most capped front-row forward in rugby history, making his 133rd appearance for Wales and the Lions, with fly-half Dan Biggar winning his 50th cap.

Asked for his thinking on the captaincy, Howley added: "In terms of continuity with captaincy and leadership from Gethin, but also from Sam's perspective for him to come back in and focus on himself and his preparation for the game."

Wales have beaten Argentina in four of the countries' past five meetings, but defeat this weekend would make it six Test losses on the bounce against all opponents.

Changes were expected after Australia's Principality Stadium stroll - it was Wales' heaviest home defeat for 10 years - and Howley has not disappointed.

Harlequins star Roberts proved largely ineffective in Wales' defensive structure, while Scott Williams, who was a late call-up to face the Wallabies after Jonathan Davies pulled out because of a tight hamstring, scored a try and impressed in most areas.

British and Irish Lions Test player Roberts, 30, has been a dominant figure in Wales teams of the eight-year Warren Gatland coaching era, but he now misses out as Howley changes his midfield options.

Elsewhere in the backs, Liam Williams returns from injury to replace Cardiff Blues wing Alex Cuthbert, while scrum-half Gareth Davies takes over from Rhys Webb, who suffered an ankle injury against Australia.

Up-front, Francis is preferred to Scarlets tighthead Samson Lee, with Jones returning to second-row duties after being unavailable for the Wallabies encounter following the death of his father.

And Warburton teams up in the back-row alongside Justin Tipuric and Ross Moriarty, but he starts at blindside flanker instead of Dan Lydiate, rather than in the more familiar number seven shirt that Tipuric keeps on this occasion.

Jenkins will become the most capped front-row forward in rugby history, making his 133rd appearance for Wales and the Lions, with fly-half Dan Biggar winning his 50th cap.

Reflecting on his selection, Howley said: "We've made a number of changes, some of which are selection-based and injury-enforced, but we are also able to select from a number of players returning from injury.

"In the back-line, Liam (Williams) and Jon (Davies) are both back and available and come into the side. We were pleased with Leigh's (Halfpenny's) performance at full-back last week and we feel this is the best back-three combination for this game.

"Jon has recovered from his tight hamstring and will link up with Scott in midfield, and it's a blow to lose Rhys (Webb), but Gareth (Davies) is an excellent scrum-half, as he has shown on many occasions. He will see it as a great opportunity.

"We've made a number of changes in the pack. Tomas Francis starts at tighthead, and it's great to welcome Alun Wyn Jones back into the side after what has been a really tough few weeks for him and his family.

"Sam (Warburton) came through the match for the Blues well last weekend and comes into the side at blindside.

"With Sam returning, we have spoken to him and we feel it's best for him to focus purely on his performance and role on Saturday, leaving the captaincy with Gethin.

"In terms of achievements, its great to see Dan win his 50th cap, and also it's a huge honour for Gethin as he becomes the world's most-capped front-row forward."

Lee joins Roberts on the bench, where there is also a place for Cardiff Blues' Gareth Anscombe, but Ospreys prospect Sam Davies misses out after making his Test debut as a substitute five days ago.

Roberts has been a starter in 82 of his 84 games for Wales, stretching back to 2008.

Reflecting on the decision to omit him from the starting XV, Howley gave his thoughts during a press conference at Wales' training base.

"I sat down with Jamie this morning. There were a number of defensive errors in our game, and Jamie is the defensive captain," Howley added.

"The standard of defence wasn't good enough, and we have made a reaction and made a change.

"I don't look forward to it, and neither do the other coaches, when you are dropping a player of that experience.

"But when you have the performance which we did in that area, you have to make a change. Jamie understands that.

"In fairness to him, when we met the leadership group on Monday, he was the first player to put his hand up and said he made mistakes, so I am expecting a positive response if, and when, he is needed off the bench on Saturday,"

Howley, meanwhile, confirmed that Webb will undergo surgery on Friday and miss the remainder of this season's autumn programme.

Wales team to play Argentina in Cardiff on Saturday, November 12, kick-off 5.30pm: (15-9) L Halfpenny (Toulon); G North (Northampton), J Davies (Scarlets), S Williams (Scarlets), Liam Williams (Scarlets); D Biggar (Ospreys), G Davies (Scarlets); (1-8) G Jenkins (Cardiff Blues, capt), K Owens (Scarlets), T Francis (Exeter), L Charteris (Bath), A W Jones (Ospreys), S Warburton (Cardiff Blues), J Tipuric (Ospreys), R Moriarty (Gloucester).

Replacements: (16-23) S Baldwin (Ospreys), N Smith (Ospreys), S Lee (Scarlets), C Hill (Newport Gwent Dragons), J King (Ospreys), Lloyd Williams (Cardiff Blues), G Anscombe (Cardiff Blues), J Roberts (Harlequins).

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