Wales finish the summer with a full house of results. A win, a draw and a loss, in that order, might not feel like progress, but it is as much as anything a reflection of the escalating quality of the opposition.
Argentina improved this week from last weekend’s draw, not least by keeping a full complement of players on the pitch. This Pumas team are more than capable of beating a full-strength Wales, let alone the assortment of youth and experience Wales fielded in this second Test between the two in Cardiff.
Indeed, much the same line-up as this earned them a first win over the All Blacks just a few months ago. So no shame for Wales to finish on a low. Wayne Pivac will not welcome the result, but he has a host of new caps to add to his options, with the bulk of his first team with the Lions in South Africa.
“We’re disappointed with the result,” he said. “We didn’t play as well as we’d have liked to, but we were playing against a very good Argentinian side. We made far too many errors for this level of rugby. It’s a learning for a lot of players, so a worthwhile exercise from our point of view.”
In particular, Wales looked raw in the front five, which is never recommended against Argentina, even if the Pumas are equally adept these days at the finer arts of the game. By the end, a mighty Argentina pack squeezed Wales mercilessly in a second half of frustrating incoherence.
A series of scrum penalties in the last half-hour enabled Nicolas Sánchez to put the result safely beyond the hosts, and Pablo Matera’s late try added a sheen to Argentina’s win.
Wales had opened in fine fashion. A counterattack featuring both props was finished with aplomb by Owen Lane in the right corner. But Argentina took over from there without ever releasing their grip. Wales’s back row had as much experience as any department, as did the midfield, where Jonathan Davies was captain for the day. They needed all of it, as the heavy artillery pounded them relentlessly throughout.
As if a back row featuring Matera and Facundo Isa did not supply power enough, the man currently picked as No8 between them, Rodgrigo Bruni, is shaping up to be as meaty a customer as either. He led the charge but was not short of accomplices.
Meanwhile, the Argentinian bench creaked under the weight of Tomas Lavanini et al. As with Wales, the first half saw the best of Argentina. They replied swiftly to the Welsh opener with a try for Matias Moroni, the Leicester centre playing here on the wing.
Moroni was instrumental again when Argentina stretched the lead on the half-hour. His brilliant counter down the left showed how the Pumas can play with wit as well as brawn. From the position secured, Tomas Cubelli darted over after a big scrum was followed up by Bruni’s latest punishing charge.
That earned Argentina a 17-8 lead at the break, but in between Cubelli’s try and Matera’s at the death, the scoreboard moved only by multiples of three. Handling in the second half was curiously lax by both sides in the warm sunshine.
A yellow card for Hallam Amos on the hour for taking out his opposite number in the air did little to help Wales’s cause, but by then the rhythm of the contest had been set. It was fractured and at Argentina’s tempo. That meant little prospect for Wales to wriggle free of the Puma grip. Imagine a pair of jaws round a throat throughout.