It won’t be pretty, but Wales can tame Pumas
FAITH in those who secured a Grand Slam or fear of changing Warren Gatland’s line-up while keeping his seat warm?
The proof of Rob Howley’s conservative selection for this afternoon’s clash with Argentina will be in the pudding.
The interim head coach said on Tuesday that Lions boss Gatland, who will return for the Australia and New Zealand Tests, was “100 per cent” involved in choosing who takes to the Millennium Stadium turf today.
Perhaps that is why the line-up has a familiar feel.
Calls for change fell on deaf ears and that means several players will be under close scrutiny.
Howley will be hoping that they repay the faith he has shown in them, because the caretaker boss is on shaky ground himself.
Doubts remain after he was at the helm for three failures against a pretty poor Australia side last summer.
Howley desperately needs a win and has avoided rocking the boat when plotting his method of achieving one.
He’s opted for Gethin Jenkins, who has been playing fleetingly at Toulon, at loosehead ahead of in-form Bath man Paul James.
Rhys Priestland keeps the number 10 jersey instead of Dan Biggar despite a poor run of international appearances that go back to the World Cup, most notably a shocker at Twickenham that nearly ended Grand Slam hopes.
It’s Josh Turnbull, and Sam Warburton for that matter, ahead of flanker Justin Tipuric.
But most notably Tavis Knoyle gets the nod at scrum-half rather than Mike Phillips. How long before the television cameras show him looking moody on the bench?
Howley says that decision is because Phillips was with Bayonne while Knoyle was preparing in Poland but it’s a strategy that is far more risky than anything the no-frills Pumas will attempt today.
Have Wales left themselves vulnerable for the sake of a warning that few players will heed given the riches on offer in France?
The coaching team have put their ear plugs in and ignored calls for change, a decision perhaps shaped by the list of absentees.
Tighthead Adam Jones, back row forwards Dan Lydiate and Ryan Jones and outside centre Jonathan Davies will be sorely missed.
The sight of them in the stands will give added belief to an Argentina team that scent blood after a number of narrow scrapes in the Rugby Championship.
The Pumas gave a good account of themselves against New Zealand, South Africa and Australia but failed to enjoy a single victory.
They earned a lot of praise for their performances but, as Wales will testify, coming close against the Big Three swiftly becomes tiresome.
Argentina will want to claim another big scalp and to turn over a Six Nations side on their own patch, like they notably did against England at Twickenham in 2006.
The Pumas do not head to Cardiff with fancy tactics – they will try to put the squeeze on up front, be abrasive and win the kicking duel.
If Wales are to avoid coming a cropper then they need their tight five to perform heroically.
Because if Argentina win the gain line battle then captain Warburton will be rendered powerless, just as he frequently has been in club colours due to a powderpuff Cardiff Blues pack.
None the less, Wales should have too much quality if they play at high-tempo and with width... but that is a big if.
Throughout the Six Nations it seemed that they were playing with the brakes on, failing to really dazzle despite the tools at their disposal.
Now is the time to change that because Argentina would relish an arm wrestle, even if Wales have the edge in the goalkicking stakes thanks to the prolific Leigh Halfpenny.
Wales have tested themselves with a tough four-game schedule this autumn and desperately need to start with a win.
They should manage that this afternoon, but it will be tight and is unlikely to be pretty.