Humbled Wales need to correct these five fatal flaws and save the autumn series
22:52 GMT, 11 November 2012
Eleven years to the day since Rob Howley lost to Argentina at the Millennium Stadium as a player, his side were humbled by the same margin in a pitiful 12-26 defeat.
Wales have failed to win the opening Test of their autumn campaign for 12 years, and the much-vaunted Grand Slam glory has been followed by four consecutive Test match losses (excluding one forgettable run-out against the Barbarians). So, what is going wrong
Floored: Centre Jamie Roberts is treated for concussion
GET A GRIP
Argentina put Wales in a headlock and never let go. The hosts are serial slow starters and need to impose their game plan from kick-off, not let their opponents dictate play.
Fumble: Leigh Halfpenny spills a high ball under pressure from Juan Manuel Leguizamon
Full back Leigh Halfpenny fumbled an awkward ball in the first minute and it set the tone. As Argentina coach Santiago Phelan put it: ‘We took the initiative in the first 20 minutes. The intensity of the game was very high but in the Rugby Championship we learned how to play at this kind of intensity and velocity.’
That the wooden spoon collectors of the Rugby Championship should beat the Grand Slam champions of Europe tells us the north-south divide remains. Asked how the competitions compare, Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe put it simply: ‘The difference We’re playing against the first, second and third best teams in the world.’
BACK TO THE DRAWING BOARD
Prop Gethin Jenkins was brutally honest. ‘It’s back to the drawing board,’ he said.
‘We’ve got to really look at ourselves. We played into their hands by trying to play too much rugby in our own territory.’
Wales are guilty of trying too hard and thinking about the next phase without properly executing the current one.
Honest assessment: Wales' prop Gethin Jenkins did not hold back with his views after the game
‘Thinking Clearly Under Pressure’ was a mantra of Sir Clive Woodward’s England side and Wales need a dose of it. Losing centre Jamie Roberts so early with concussion — after a nasty clash of heads with centre Gonzalo Tiesi — left them without their go-to guy.
Leigh Halfpenny’s kicking is as flawless as ever — and he can jump a foot higher than rivals who are a foot taller in any aerial battle — but Wales were so flat no-one enhanced his reputation. Jamie Roberts’ importance was proved in his absence. Sam Warburton must show he can pull his team together when under the cosh.
The centre provides momentum to the side, particularly off the first phase, and without him stand-in coach Howley admitted Wales were one-paced.
There was no dynamism and no precision in their play. On more than one occasion, the flying giants on the flanks had to slow down so as not to get in front of team-mates during their lethargic attacks. Wales love the word momentum, but you must pick up speed first.
FRESHNESS OVER FITNESS
For all the flogging punishment suffered at their training camp in Poland, Wales lost the second half 20-3. They looked sluggish and half a step behind, lacking their trademark zip.
Thirty training sessions in seven days is impressive, but if that doesn’t translate into physical superiority on the pitch then it is just unnecessary torture. Jenkins admitted: ‘I don’t know whether they tired us out in the final 35 minutes, but they upped the tempo and we couldn’t deal with it.’
Putting in the preparation: Jonathan Davies comes out of the cryotherapy chamber in Poland where Wales went of a training camp
After the final whistle, Wales headed for their cryotherapy sauna in a converted police van in the car park. Argentina had a cold shower and a crate of Bulmers delivered to their changing room.
POWER OF THREES
Wales have lost three key positions in their 3, 6 and 12. Tighthead prop Adam Jones and blindside flanker Dan Lydiate are out for the autumn, and the concussion suffered by centre Roberts will be assessed on Monday. If it is deemed severe then the new IRB regulations could see him sit out the rest of the autumn.
Telling it like it is: Shaun Edwards gave an honest assessment
Those three positions are vital for an attacking platform — Jones at the scrum, Lydiate at the breakdown and Roberts providing the go-forward off the first phase.
Defensive coach Shaun Edwards pulled no punches afterwards: ‘It was obvious there is a disparity between our first-choice 15 and the players who have got those positions now.’ It gets worse with lock Alun Wyn Jones out for the series with a nasty shoulder injury.
Howley is an impressive figure in training — for both his intelligence as a coach and his rapport with the players — but Warren Gatland still looms in the shadows. The Lions head coach was in Dublin on Saturday watching Ireland, but is he the missing link on matchday
Intelligent: Rob Howley is an impressive man
Wales needed the proverbial rocket at half-time, instead they showed no real change after the break. Gatland returns for the final two games against New Zealand and Australia and his effect on the side will be intriguing. Next up for Wales is their bogey team Samoa at their bogey time — the dreaded Friday night slot — after only a six-day turnaround.
Lose that and Wales are staring down the barrel of a winless autumn. They haven’t beaten New Zealand since 1953 and are on a seven-match losing run against Australia. As hooker Richard Hibbard put it: ‘It just gets more and more physical with the hard-hitters to come.’