Argentina sneak a win against Wales
Argentina recorded a narrow 27-25 win over Wales at Estadio Raúl Conti, in Puerto Madryn, Chubut, on Sunday. But the first-ever Test in Patagonia was a drab affair with far more penalties, yellow cards and handling errors than any real constructive rugby.
It was different in Puerto Madryn near the sea. It was a match with a different feel. It was a humble ground - no great stands, a fence about it and a request to the spectators to shift up closer so that more people could get in.
The people behind the fence whistled disapproval as if in a lunatic aviary, and there were cow-like noises from time to time and then singing and bobbing. But then the rugby was not all that entertaining.
The field itself was different - narrower than usual, which did not make for expansive rugby. And narrower than it need be - for there was a broad surrounding available on either side. It was also ungenerous with its in-goal, which caused momentary damage to Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe - whose head hit the hoardings just behind the dead-ball area when he scored a try ... a touch-and-go try.
Oh, there were some exciting moments, provided mostly by Wales, as the Argentinians decided beef was their most important asset. At fly-half they had Federico Todeschini who kicked immaculately at goal. But for the rest he was uncreative and unambitious, as he kept the seat warm for Felipe Contepomi - who is due back from his medical exams in time for the second Test of the series.
The Pumas were better at scrummaging and bashing, but the inspiration came from Wales. It was three tries-all at the end, but Wales's tries and some other bits of their play had style that the Argentinian tries lacked, even the one by replacement Federico Leonelli from a tighthead at a scrum and some close-quarter inter-passing.
In the end Wales paid a dear price for their first-half indiscipline, which produced several penalties and 13 points while men sat in the sin bin.
It was a match of many penalties - 10-7 to Argentina in the first half and 6-2 to Wales in the second. Most of the infringements were, inevitably, at the tackle, but there were also cantankerous moments.
The match started with lots of profitable activity - three tries in eleven minutes then it fell apart into niggles with many warnings, cautioning, admonishings and debatings from the referee and eventually yellow cards for two Welshmen - which reduced them to 13 men and cost them 13 points.
That was not bright.
Argentina also lost the cantankerous Rodrigo Roncero to the sin-bin in the second half, an absence not as expensive as those of Gavin Thomas and Alix Popham had been in the first half.
Wales scored first. They attacked, the Pumas went off-side and Mike Phillips tapped within the shadow of the Pumas' posts. Nicky Robinson threw a long skip pass to wing Mark Jones, who had little trouble scoring. 5-0. Nicky Robinson missed the conversion and later missed a penalty in each half, expensive in a two-point defeat.
The Pumas struck back from the kick-off. Juan Manuel Leguizamon charged down an attempted clearance from Phillips and gathered the ball. He tried to pass infield, but the ball came off Phillips and back into the Welsh in-goal racing for the dead-ball line with flank Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe hurtling after the ball.
He dived and the referee awarded the try. Many referees would have made a referral to the television match official, but the referee was next to Fernández Lobbe and took the responsibility on himself. Todeschini converted from far out on his right. In going for the ball Fernández Lobbe was hurt, as he hurtled into the hoardings.
That made it 7-5 after seven minutes, and four minutes later there was another try. This one had jam on it.
The Pumas were attacking inside the Welsh half, going right, when Agustín Pichot passed straight to rangy lock Ian Evans, and the new cap set off galloping straight down the middle of the field, the empty middle of the field, off to the posts with lots of glee at scoring a try, which Nicky Robinson converted. 12-7.
It appeared that it would be a high-scoring match. The appearance was deceptive as much of the rest of the match was a slow war of attrition.
There was a fairly innocent-looking line-out just inside the Welsh half that had dire consequences for the Welsh. Gavin Thomas got the ball, but the referee decided that all was not innocent and awarded a free kick to the Pumas. Thomas lay on the ground with the ball. The Pumas wanted it to play quickly, but Thomas continued to nestle the ball. He got a yellow card and the free kick became a penalty, which Todeschini swung over the posts to make the score 12-10.
The Pumas got close but, Ignacio Fernández Lobbe was penalised for crawling. Wales got out of gaol, but not entirely as Popham was penalised twice in a short space of time - firstly for thundering into Mario Ledesma when the sturdy hooker did not have the ball and then for collapsing a maul which the Pumas had working. That brought Wales to 13 men.
With Popham and Thomas off, the Pumas opted for a five-metre scrum instead of an easy penalty. Wales put a back into the pack to try to shore it up but the Pumas did not go for the push-over. Instead they played to the right wing where José María Nuñez Piossek dived over for a try in the corner - again converted by Todeschini, and the Pumas led 17-12.
The Pumas were not done. On half-time Wales were penalised again and Todeschini goaled again to make the score 20-12 at the break.
When Matthew Watkins was helped off injured, he was replaced by young James Hook of great promise, his first cap for Wales.
Any electricity in the match came in this half and was Welsh-engineered. Shane Williams had two great runs out of defence though the moves were scuppered by reluctance to pass. On one occasion Popham was clear on the left but Mark Jones ignored his presence entirely.
Nicky Robinson goaled one penalty and then, when Roncero was yellow-carded, a second to make the score 20-18. This was a period of Welsh dominance, their best passage of play in the match, but the Pumas then came back strongly.
They drove off a five-metre scrum and got close to the line but instead of looking for a try they got Todeschini to drop for goal. He scooped a drop from straight in front and close in, what little boys used to call baby-line because even little boys could kick it over from there - and he missed!
Shane Williams went on a crafty run again, but died with the ball, and the Pumas came back.
Their try started at a Welsh scrum. Phillips - who was big and strong but not perhaps as nimble as a day of scruffy ball required - fed the scrum and the Pumas won a tighthead with sheer power.
That set off a hectic attack with sharp inter-passing involving above all Gonzalo Longo and Lucas Borges. A pass from Borges sent replacement Leonelli over for a try, which Todeschini inevitably converted. 27-18 and the match looked safe. But there were still eight minutes to play.
The Pumas came back onto the attack with Ledesma leading the charge, but suddenly light burst into the game as Jamie Robinson broke out of his own 22.
He had a player on each side and he raced downfield. He chose Hook on his inside and the tall centre kept on running. Leonelli grasped at him and rugged at him but eventually the young player broke free in time to drop over the Puma line in front of their posts. Nicky Robinson converted. 27-25 with three minutes to play.
The Pumas kept a stranglehold on the three minutes and when Wales were penalised in a position where Todeschini would certainly have goaled, Pichot decided to hoof the ball into touch and the whistle went - Argentina had held on for a famous win.
Man of the Match: Shane Williams was electric and Jamie Robinson was profitably electric, Ian Jones was good at getting the ball out of the air and scored a fun try and Lee Byrne was perhaps the best of all the Welsh with a grand performance in defence and attack. For the Pumas, cool Juan Martín Hernández, busy Juan Manuel Leguizamon, and aggressive Ignacio Fernández Lobbe were effective but our man of the match is Mario Ledesma, the sturdy hooker who threw in immaculately, scrummaged powerfully and added strength to the loose.
Moment of the Match: For the sheer joy of it, Ian Evans's try.
Villain of the Match: The three-card tricksters - Gavin Thomas, Alix Popham and Rodrigo Roncero. If we had to vote for one it would go to Roncero.
Tries: J-M Lobbe, Piossek, Leonelli
Cons: Todeschini 3
Pens: Todeschini 2
Tries: M Jones, Evans, Hook
Cons: N Robinson 2
Pens: N Robinson 2
Yellow cards: Gavin Thomas (Wales, 30), Alix Popham (Wales, 38), Rodrigo Roncero (Argentina, 60)
Argentina: 15 Juan Martín Hernández, 14 José María Nuñez Piossek, 13 Gonzalo Tiesi, 12 Rafael Carballo, 11 Lucas Borges, 10 Federico Todeschini, 9 Agustín Pichot (captain), 8 Gonzalo Longo, 7 Juan Manuel Leguizamon, 6 Juan Martín Fernández Lobbe, 5 Rimas Álvarez Kairelis, 4 Ignacio Fernández Lobbe, 3 Martín Scelzo, 2 Mario Ledesma, 1 Rodrigo Roncero
Replacements: 16 Marcos Ayerza, 17 Pablo Gambarini, 18 Santiago Sanz, 19 Martín Schuterman, 20 Nicolás Fernández Miranda, 21 Francisco Leonelli, 22 Federico Serra
Wales: 15 Lee Byrne, 14 Mark Jones, 13 Jamie Robinson, 12 Matthew Watkins, 11 Shane Williams, 10 Nicky Robinson, 9 Mike Phillips, 8 Alix Popham, 7 Gavin Thomas, 6 Alun Wyn Jones, 5 Ian Evans, 4 Ian Gough, 3 Adam Jones, 2 Matthew Rees, 1 Duncan Jones (captain).
Replacements: 16 Richard Hibbard, 17 Rhys Thomas, 18 John Yapp, 19 Gareth Delve, 20 Andy Williams, 21 James Hook, 22 Chris Czekaj.
Referee: Alain Rolland (Ireland)
Touch judges: Dave Pearson (England), Eric Darrière (France)
Television match official: Giulio De Santis (Italy)
Assessor: Frans Muller (South Africa)