Wales 12 Argentina 26: Halfpenny can't keep pace as Pumas run riot
17:00 GMT, 10 November 2012
Wales' hopes of securing a top-four seeding in the 2015 World Cup nosedived after Argentina stunned them at the Millennium Stadium.
Eleven years to the day following Argentina's only previous victory over Wales in Cardiff, second-half tries from wings Juan Imhoff and Gonzalo Camacho left the reigning RBS 6 Nations champions reeling.
Turning the screw: Juan Imhoff scores a try for Argentina
Penalties: Halfpenny (7, 14, 27, 48)
Tries: Imhoff (54), Camacho (59)
Conversions: Sanchez (54, 59)
Penalties: Contepomi (4)
Drop goals: Sanchez (9. 52)
And to make matters worse, Wales also
suffered a double injury blow when centre Jamie Roberts and lock
Alun-Wyn Jones departed inside the opening 40 minutes.
Full-back Leigh Halfpenny kicked all
Wales' points, but they were outplayed by a Pumas team battle-hardened
from recent home and away appointments with New Zealand, Australia and
South Africa in the southern hemisphere's inaugural Rugby Championship.
Fly-half Nicolas Sanchez weighed in
with two drop-goals, two conversions and a penalty, while veteran centre
Felipe Contepomi kicked a penalty before he was forced off injured
after just 10 minutes. Wales' interim head coach Rob Howley – in charge
while Warren Gatland begins preparations for heading up next summer's
British and Irish Lions tour to Australia – will have been dismayed by
some of his side's lethargy.
It was Wales' fourth defeat on the
bounce, their first at home since last December and a loss that leaves
them with little chance of securing a top four ranking on which top
seeds will based prior to the World Cup draw early next month.
Feeding frenzy: Argentina's Martin Landajo releases the ball
They have Samoa, New Zealand and
Australia still to come over the next three weeks, with Wales having not
beaten the All Blacks since 1953 and suffered seven successive defeats
at the Wallabies' hands.
And Wales' day was summed up three
minutes from time when substitute back-row forward Rob McCusker burst
through – but he blissfully ignored three unmarked team-mates outside
Getting his kicks: Wales' Leigh Halfpenny (left) scores a penalty
It was the final misguided act by
Wales, with their players booed off by many in a 51,000-strong crowd.
Wales launched their autumn campaign without injured quartet Jonathan
Davies, Adam Jones, Dan Lydiate and Ryan Jones, but Roberts returned
after knee surgery in a team that also included debutant prop Aaron
Contepomi and Halfpenny exchanged
penalties during a low-key opening under the stadium's closed roof, but
there was an impressive tempo to Argentina's game that suggested they
meant business. Sanchez put them 6-3 ahead with a drop-goal after 10
minutes, and there was no immediate sign of Wales getting their
much-vaunted wide attacking game into gear.
The Pumas, though, suffered an injury
blow when Contepomi was carried off after being left dazed following a
midfield collision of bodies.
Going south: George North is tackled by Argentina's Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe (left)
He was replaced by Joaquin Tuculet as
Halfpenny landed an equalising penalty. And the game's
fiercely-punishing trend did not end there as Roberts was helped away
midway through the half.
It looked as though he had been
knocked out following a collision with Pumas centre Gonzalo Tiesi, and
it meant an early entry for Perpignan's James Hook, who won his 66th
Halfpenny then completed his penalty
hat-trick, putting Wales in front for the first time, but it was
largely unconvincing rugby from the home side.
Playing their first Test match since
June, Wales looked rusty, although Hook's arrival injected a midfield
snap as the home side looked to free wings Alex Cuthbert and George
Double trouble: Manuel Carizza (third right) looks to offload under pressure from Tavis Knoyle (right) and Toby Faletau (right)
But Wales suffered another injury
blow on the stroke of half-time when lock Jones was forced off clutching
his ribs, and Wales shaded a disappointing 40 minutes 9-6 in front.
With Contepomi off, Sanchez assumed
goalkicking duties, but his opening strike bounced back off the post as
Argentina dominated territory early in the second period.
Sanchez then had another opportunity
just two minutes later, albeit from longer range, and this time he
slipped on making contact with the ball and it fell well short of the
Chip 'n' chase: Martin Landajo (left) kicks past Tavis Knoyle (right)
Argentina, though, had served notice
to Wales they did not intend slipping off the pace, and the home side
needed some inspiration, rather than perspiration.
Halfpenny's fourth successful penalty
inched Wales further in front, but Sanchez dropped his second goal to
make it a three-point game again midway through the third quarter.
Wales could establish nothing in the
way of sustained momentum, and the Pumas showed them exactly what do
with quality possession when Imhoff sprinted over for a well-worked try
that Sanchez converted.
And it got worse for Wales just six
minutes later, with Imhoff's fellow wing Camacho the beneficiary this
time, finishing superbly in the corner despite Halfpenny's tackle.
Sanchez again converted, leaving Wales in grave danger of defeat unless they could stir during the closing quarter.
But when Sanchez slotted a penalty
nine minutes from time there was no way back for Wales, who delivered
comfortably their worst performance since folding to defeat against
France in Paris 20 months ago.