Wales fired up to win an end-of-year Test

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT -

WALES will at­tempt to halt their stag­ger­ing 11-game streak with­out a win in an end-of-year Test when they face Ar­gentina at Cardiff ’s Mil­len­nium Sta­dium to­day ( kick- off 4.30pm).

Wales are cur­rently en­joy­ing their most suc­cess­ful era since the glory days of the 1970s, hav­ing won three Six Na­tions ti­tles and reached a World Cup semi-fi­nal in the space of six years.

Add to that the pres­ence in their side of 10 play­ers in the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Li­ons’ de­ci­sive third Test win over Aus­tralia in July, as well as half the com­bined out­fit’s man­age­ment team, and home ex­pec­ta­tions are un­sur­pris­ingly high this weekend.

Yet Welsh rugby is char­ac­terised by fluc­tu­at­ing for­tunes that rise and fall like the val­leys of the na­tion, and de­spite their Six Na­tions suc­cess, there is some­thing about this time of year that sees the for­tunes of the na­tional side fall as pre­dictably as the leaves from the trees.

Last week’s 24-15 de­feat by South Africa means Wales have not won on home soil at this time of year since 2009 when they beat the Pu­mas 33-16 at the Mil­len­nium Sta­dium.

Now they face the same op­po­nents four years later try­ing to re­verse the trend, hav­ing gone down 26-12 to Ar­gentina in Cardiff just over 12 months ago.

“Our fo­cus is al­ways the Six Na­tions, that is our bread and but­ter, so some­times we have gone into the (north­ern hemi­sphere) au­tumn look­ing to blood a few play­ers and try a few com­bi­na­tions,” said Wales coach War­ren Gat­land.

“It is not a com­pe­ti­tion but we are con­scious that we have not done as well as we would have liked in the au­tumns. Per­haps now is the time to kick on,” the New Zealan­der added.

Wales have made five changes, in­clud­ing one po­si­tional switch, to the side beaten by the Spring­boks last week. Rho­dri Jones, Justin Tipuric and new cap Cory Allen are pro­moted with Li­ons trio Adam Jones, Dan Ly­di­ate and Jonathan Davies all out through in­jury.

Allen, 20, shone for Wales Sevens but re­mains an un­known quan­tity de­spite be­ing asked to fill the void left at Cardiff Blues by the de­par­ture of Jamie Roberts and he now re­places another Lion in Davies.

“We’re not sure what to ex­pect from Cory but some­times you have throw young guys into the deep end and see what hap­pens,” said Gat­land.

“With Jonathan in­jured we’re look­ing for some cover and it’s a chance for a young guy to de­velop,” the Li­ons head coach coach added.

Wales cap­tain Sam War­bur­ton starts at blind­side flanker, al­low­ing for the re­turn of Justin Tipuric in the same back-row, along with No 8 Toby Fale­tau, that started the 30- 3 Six Na­tions ti­tle-win­ning rout of Eng­land in March.

Prop Gethin Jenk­ins wins his 100th Wales cap.

New Pu­mas coach Daniel Hour­cade, who made four changes from the side beaten 31-12 by Eng­land at Twick­en­ham last weekend, said: “This is only my sec­ond game and we are get­ting more con­fi­dent with each other as a group.

“We’re in the process of de­vel­op­ment and play­ing in the Rugby Cham­pi­onship has been a big jump. It has made us grow up very quickly which is the only way to im­prove.” – AFP

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