Out of the gloom: Has Wales’ win over Argentina got the Autumn campaign back on track?
Ynyshir & District Workingman’s Club likes to watch games with the house lights off, cinema style, so there was an eerie atmosphere as the bugler sounded the Last Post before the clash with Argentina.
The subsequent silence was observed flawlessly, save for a quiet and, I suspect, involuntary, ‘Go on, boy!’ when the camera paused on Louis Rees-Zammit.
With Argentina buoyant after victory over England last week, hopes were as subdued as the lighting. Darren felt that the visitors would have the psychological edge.
‘They’ve had big victories recently. Argentina have always been physically strong but now they have mental strength too.’
We didn’t go into how last week’s mauling from the All Blacks might have affected Wales’ collective mentality, but it certainly didn’t do much for mine.
Rugby will always throw up surprises, that’s the thrill of it, but Wayne Pivac’s Welsh sides don’t seem to follow any sort of narrative thread at all.
Players pop up in positions where they’ve never played, star performers are dropped for reasons nobody understands, and the lethargy of one week’s performance can give way to renewed intensity a week later.
This time, Alun Wyn Jones had been dismissed from the match day squad, Rees-Zammit was asked to try his luck at full back, and Dillon Lewis replaced Tomos Francis at tight head.
This last change seemed fully vindicated when Wales dismantled Argentina at the first scrum. Set piece failure has been endemic in recent years, so this came as a welcome surprise, albeit one spoiled by a shambolic effort at the subsequent lineout.
Rees-Zammit’s frustration is sometimes visible when he’s stood by the touchline wondering if the ball will ever come his way, so it was no surprise to see him taking full advantage of the latitude that a full back can enjoy to make an early, scything incursion through the Argentinian defence.
With his own defensive game improving all the time, it makes sense to ensure that such a threatening attacker is not dependent on the run of play for his opportunities. At full back he can seek them out.
After repeated penalties for offside had gifted Argentina a six-point lead, a prolonged Welsh attack recalled last week’s failure to penetrate the last line of defence.
Wales seemed composed, however, and had the confidence to spurn opportunities to kick points in the hope that their sustained pressure would pay off and pay off it did with Taulupe Faletau going over from a lineout to celebrate his birthday with a try.
With a 10-6 lead at half time the club was warming up. While the back room was boisterous as a younger crowd enjoyed Newcastle beating Chelsea, the rugby devotees, which included Ponty, Llanelli and Wales legend Gary ‘Boomer’ Jones, were allowing cautious hope to be entertained.
’10-6! We’ll take that!’ Darren announced, bringing back a pint of Madri to go with the one he’d forgotten he’d bought before his expedition to the Gents.
Outside, vapers and smokers commented on the menacingly warm weather, and a miscreant was informed that the licence only allowed for drinks to be brought outside between March 1st and October 31st.
I scanned Aberrhondda Road for the Feds but he got away with it…this time.
I experience real fear at the outset of the second half whenever Wales play; so often it seems that we emerge from the break and ship points, regardless of how well the first half might have gone.
This time, however, it was the unfortunate Juan Cruz Mallia whose fluffed clearance gave Tomos Williams a charge down score so simple he seemed almost embarrassed as he walked back.
There was still jeopardy in the game, as Argentina closed the gap to seven points through a converted Chaparro try, but Wales had remembered how to defend and with Priestland on to direct their play, managed to close out the win professionally.
Given Australia’s loss to Italy, Wales must be hoping that today’s resurgence has laid the groundwork to rescue their Autumn campaign.
Whether by accident or design, the changes made this week might be the way forward.
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