Wales still expected to show Gatland's influence
Wales v Argentina:Warren Gatland may not be directly involved in Wales’s first two matches in their autumn series, starting with Argentina today as he focuses on the Lions, but he has been spotted patrolling his squad’s base in the Vale of Glamorgan on a Segway, a battery-powered, two-wheeled contraption that allows him to be mobile without using the feet he injured last May.
Gatland had an operation on one of his feet last month and is walking with the aid of crutches. While he has taken a sabbatical as the national side’s head coach this season – save for the matches against New Zealand and Australia – to concentrate on the Lions, his interest in his Wales team is more than passing, even if he will be in Dublin and Edinburgh this weekend.
“Warren has been involved,” said Rob Howley, the interim head coach in Gatland’s absence. “He is looking after Wales for the New Zealand and Australia games and the selection in the first two weeks impacts on that. I speak to him every day and had discussions with him before the team to face Argentina was picked.”
“Warren is here in his rugby mentality if not his body,” said the secondrow Alun-Wyn Jones. “His mantra is being carried on: hard work, being direct and not being afraid to play.”
Wales tend to start slowly in the autumn. The last time they won their opening match in a November series was back in 2002 against Romania; the previous year, they lost to Argentina on today’s date, the Pumas’ one victory in Cardiff.
Only a draw against Australia in 2006 breaks a sequence of first-up defeats in the past 10 years. Argentina’s pack will pose a threat and Wales are without the injured Adam Jones, Dan Lydiate and Ryan Jones. Adam Jones’s replacement at tighthead prop is his fellow Osprey, the 26-year-old journeyman Aaron Jarvis.
He made eight starts in four seasons at Bath, shadowing Duncan Bell and David Wilson, and most of those were in the LV Cup. Most of his appearances for Ospreys have come from the bench.
“Wales will miss Jones a lot,” said Argentina loosehead prop, Marcos Ayerza, who faced Jarvis at the end of Leicester’s Heineken Cup victory over Ospreys last month. “We pride ourselves on our scrum and we are pretty confident we will have dominance up front.”
Veteran Felipe Contepomi will again direct their attack. They may not have won in the Rugby Championship, but South Africa were fortunate to leave Mendoza with a draw and the Pumas led for a while in Dunedin and the Gold Coast.
A danger for Wales, as they plot a way of breaking into the top four of the world rankings at the beginning of next month ahead of the draw for the 2015 World Cup pools, is that they subconsciously look too far in front of them. Argentina, and next week’s opponents Samoa, will pose a threat in Cardiff.