Everything you need to know as Wales take on Argentina with a place in the World Cup semi-finals on the line
Warren Gatland guides Wales into a World Cup quarter-final for a remarkable fourth time this weekend when they face Argentina in Marseille.
He’s been successful in two of his three previous last-eight ties, against Ireland in 2011 and France in 2019, with a narrow loss to South Africa in 2015.
So can he take Wales to the semis once again?
Here’s everything you need to know about Saturday afternoon’s huge knock-out showdown with the Pumas.
After group games in Bordeaux, Nice, Lyon and Nantes, Wales’ French travelogue continues with a trip to the Mediterranean port of Marseille.
It’s the second most populated city in the country, with some 870,000 inhabitants, and also the oldest, with history at every turn. Overlooked by the imposing Notre-Dame de la Garde basilica, the city is famous for its bouillabaisse – that’s fish soup to me and you – while the anise-flavoured spirit Pastis is a favorite tipple. That clocks in at around 40-45% ABV, so Welsh fans need to take it gently after a couple, as they wander around the old port waterfront!
The setting for the quarter-final is the Stade de Marseille – also known as the Stade Velodrome – which has been renovated three times since it opened in 1937, and now boasts a capacity of 67,847.
It’s the home of Ligue 1 football team Olympique de Marseille, but it has also staged a number of big rugby matches over the last 20 years, including a dozen Tests involving France and two quarter-finals at the 2007 World Cup.
Kick-off is at 5pm local time on Saturday – 4pm back here – when the temperature will be around 25 degrees. Expect a sea of red!
The selections explained
Ahead of the Welsh team announcement, there were a couple of key talking points. What would they do in the back row following the sad loss of Taulupe Faletau with a broken arm and would the assorted walking wounded be fit for selection?
Well, as for the breakaway unit, they’ve opted to go with the dual openside option of Jac Morgan and Tommy Reffell on the flanks, with skipper Morgan moving to the blindside berth left vacant by Aaron Wainwright taking over from Faletau at No 8.
Gatland revealed there had been a healthy debate among the coaches over which way to go and whether they should pick a traditional No 6 with more size, such as Dan Lydiate or Christ Tshiunza. But they feel the breakdown is going to be a really competitive area, so have opted for the turnover tenacity of Reffell, who performed so well over the ball against Georgia.
It’s certainly true to say it’s likely to be a key department of the game as Argentina’s muscular efficiency at clearing out and recycling their own ball was a big factor in the 39-27 victory over Japan which earned them the runners-up spot in Pool D and a place in the last eight.
Now there’s two ways of countering that. You can look to match them physically in the arm wrestle or you can look to get to the breakdown first and either pilfer possession or earn the penalties. Wales have gone for the latter option, backing the speed across the ground of Reffell and Morgan and their combined jackaling ability.
With the athletic Wainwright completing the trio, you have got one seriously rapid back row on duty. The race is on!
Gatland feels Morgan has been the stand-out No 7 at this World Cup and that it’s tough on him having to move across, but the view is this is the right combination for this particular match and it’s about getting their best players on the field.
He also says Wales still want to get the ball in the skipper’s hands, with him and Reffell switching over in defence, so there is clearly going to be an element of flexibility.
With the two flankers standing 5ft 11ins and 6ft respectively, the lineout options are clearly reduced somewhat. So, with that in mind, the 6ft 6ins Tshiunza provides the back row cover on the bench ahead of Taine Basham to provide a set-piece insurance policy.
As for the injury doubts, fly-half Dan Biggar (pectoral) and full-back Liam Williams (knee) have both pulled through and are able to start, which is a significant double boost, particularly in terms of the ever important aerial battle, while there’s hope Gareth Anscombe could recover from his groin problem in time for the semi-finals if Wales reach that stage.
The rest of the side pretty much picks itself, but there are some interesting calls on the bench.
We’ve mentioned Tshiunza and they have gone for further size in Dewi Lake as the back-up hooker, compensating to a degree for a smaller starting back row. Gatland admits it’s tough on Elliot Dee who has done nothing wrong and is incredibly unlucky to miss out, but again it’s about what’s right on the day and the balance of the 23.
There’s another telling bench call in the selection of Dillon Lewis over Henry Thomas as tighthead support, which again points to how important they feel the breakdown is going to be, with Lewis able to supplement the jackaling contingent as the game loosens up.
Turning to the Pumas, they too have suffered a back row body blow with flanker Pablo Matera’s tournament having been cut short by a hamstring tear. They have responded with a reshuffle of their own, drafting in Facundo Isa at No 8, with Juan Martín González shifting across to occupy the blindside berth in the absence of Matera.
Isa was seen as a real rising star of the game in his early 20s, earning a move to French giants Toulon in 2017. Now 30, he perhaps hasn’t kicked on quite as expected, with his only outing so far in this tournament having come against Chile. But now he has a huge opportunity to show off his ball carrying ability and skill-set amid a sizable back row unit.
The other change in personnel comes at scrum-half, where the 34-year-old Tomás Cubelli of Biarritz replaces the Dragons’ Gonzalo Bertranou, who drops out of the 23 altogether.
It all has the makings of one heck of a tussle.
Here are the sides in full.
Wales: Liam Williams; Louis Rees Zammit, George North, Nick Tompkins, Josh Adams; Dan Biggar, Gareth Davies; Gareth Thomas, Ryan Elias, Tomas Francis, Will Rowlands, Adam Beard, Jac Morgan (capt), Aaron Wainwright, Tommy Reffell.
Replacements: Dewi Lake, Corey Domachowski, Dillon Lewis, Dafydd Jenkins, Christ Tshiunza, Tomos Williams, Sam Costelow, Rio Dyer.
Argentina: Juan Cruz Mallia; Emiliano Boffelli, Lucio Cinti, Santiago Chocobares, Mateo Carreras; Santiago Carreras, Tomás Cubelli; Thomas Gallo, Julian Montoya (capt), Francisco Gomez Kodela, Guido Petti, Tomas Lavanini, Juan Martin Gonzalez, Facundo Isa, Marcos Kremer.
Replacements: Augustin Creevy, Joel Sclavi, Eduardo Bello, Matias Alemanno, Rodrigo Bruni, Lautaro Bazan Velez, Nicolas Sanchez, Matias Moroni.
Referee: Jaco Peyper (South Africa)
Argentine players to watch out for
You won’t see many better hat-tricks than the one Carreras put together against Fiji in Nantes where he showed off his full-range of finishing prowess. It’s a display that will have come as no surprise to Newcastle fans, with the 23-year-old Falcon having been one of the best wingers in the English Premiership last season, touching down 13 times. He’s explosively quick, he’s strong and he’s got a killer step. His head-to-head with another hat-trick hero from last weekend, Louis Rees-Zammit, will be worth the price of admission on its own.
Another star turn from the Gallagher Premiership. Hooker Montoya has become a firm fans’ favourite at Welford Road since joining Leicester in 2021, having previously played back home with the Jaguares. Now 29 and with close on a decade on the international stage under his belt, he leads by example as the Pumas’ skipper with his work over the ball a particular strength.
Arguably the stand-out performer in last Sunday’s winner-takes-all clash with Japan, the big man with the big beard is an imposing back row presence at 6ft 5ins and 18st 4lbs, a frame that also enables him to play at lock. Consistently crosses the gain-line, with a potent mix of power and athleticism, and doesn’t mess about in defence. Plies his trade in France, with a move to Clermont Auvergne coming up after three years in Paris with Stade Francais.
An absolute points machine on his day. Scored 25 of them, including a try, in Argentina’s famous victory over England at Twickenham last November and has more than 300 in total from his Test career to date, plus another 280 or so from his couple of seasons at Edinburgh. Has played much of his rugby at full-back, but it’s the right wing berth he now occupies.
One of the best pilferers of lineout possession in the business, so Wales need to beware the lock’s leaping limbs. On the books of Bordeaux Begles, the 28-year-old Petti brings real physicality to the engine room with his 17st 9lbs of prime Argentine beef. This is his third World Cup, so he also brings bags of experience.
Juan Martín González
Moves across from No 8 to the blindside flank to fill the sizable boots of Pablo Matera. He’s fast across the ground, so he will be a key figure in attempting to counter the dual openside option Wales have gone for. At 6ft 4ins, the 23-year-old – who has signed for Saracens following the demise of London Irish – will also look to supplement Petti in posing lineout problems.
What are the coaches saying?
Warren Gatland (Wales)
“Argentina are very passionate and that’s why they’ve won big games in the past against big teams. They don’t give up and they stay in the fight. We’ve got a huge amount of respect for them and we’re in for a big challenge.
“They will have been disappointed against England. They probably played too much rugby after the red card. They’ve been more pragmatic since then.
“We’re expecting them to come hard at us and be physical. We talk about being on the edge mentally. You can’t be there every week. It’s how close you get to that. We’ve been there in a couple of games and off it a bit in others. I’m expecting we’ll be right up there with that physical challenge.
“The quarter-final poses pressure as you’re either here until the end of the tournament or you’re going home on Monday. We’re not ready to go home yet.
“If we make the semi-finals it would be our third, and in 2015 we were leading South Africa in the quarter-final. So I’d be proud of that. It would be a huge achievement for this group. I know there’s some teams out there who won’t want to face a Wales team with confidence and momentum.”
Michael Cheika (Argentina)
“We know we are going to be well and truly underdogs and I have heard a lot of commentary that Wales will reach the semi-final for sure.
“We know there are a lot of Argentina fans here who are supporting us to go further, so we want to make sure we do everything we can for them.
“Warren Gatland has a very particular style which he has obviously been able to infuse into his team and they are playing it very well. It is one thing knowing, it is another thing doing something about it. You can’t do much more than win four out of four and they have done that.
“What changes for us now is the mentality. So many Argentinian fans have put their savings together to come for this week. I feel like some of our boys felt a bit of that pressure, having to beat Japan. Now everyone is happy, all the crowd is happy, maybe we can just chill out and go for it, play some good footie and then we’ll see where the cards fall.”
How are the bookies’ seeing it?
Wales win – 8/15
Argentina win – 13/8
Draw – 18/1
Odds via William Hill
Previous matches between the two countries
Wales have only lost two of their last 11 Tests against Argentina, with eight wins and one draw along the way. The most recent meeting, at the Principality Stadium last November, saw Wayne Pivac’s side triumph 20-13 through tries from Taulupe Faletau and Tomos Williams. Only 10 of the Welsh 23 from that game are on duty this weekend, showing the level of change since Warren Gatland’s return.
The countries have met twice before at the World Cup, both times in Cardiff, with Wales winning on each occasion.
In 1991, Swansea second row Paul Arnold touched down in a 16-7 victory. Then, in the opening game of the 1999 World Cup, which was hosted by Wales, Graham Henry’s team won 23-18, thanks to tries from flanker Colin Charvis and centre Mark Taylor.
Here’s hoping Gatland’s gang can make it three out of three and set up a semi-final against the winners of Ireland v New Zealand.
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