Solid win for Wales

 

Toss Graham Henry a hard hat and, the way things are going, the Millennium Stadium will be finished by Christmas. On the field, despite Argentina's best efforts to demolish the scaffolding, the New Zealander's brief to rebuild Welsh rugby's stairway to heaven is so far ahead of schedule even world rugby's cosy skyline may be transformed by this time next year.

Henry is clearly from the quick-drying cement school of master builders and, give or take shoring up his front row, has achieved more in 10 days than his predecessors managed in a decade.

If a formidable Pumas pack asked some pointed questions in the tight, only a pessimist could ignore the revivalist spirit poking its head out of the rubble. "We've got a good foundation and attitude," Henry said. "I couldn't be more pleased with everyone. You visualise what you want from a game of rugby but you're not quite sure if the people you've got can play that game. It's not perfect but we're moving up the grab."

Any Welsh supporter who opted to take the overland route home through Africa for a little light relief after that 96-13 summer thrashing by the Springboks must be wondering what was in their malaria pills. After Saturday's display, one or two may even be tempted to check the odds on Wales for next year's World Cup; the sceptics should have joined the 10,000 believers shoe-horned into Stradey Park.

For the first 10 minutes the back division performed as if the Wembley video was stuck on fast-forward. Scott Gibbs, all pirouettes and pile-driving tackles, was immense alongside Mark Taylor who has gone from zero to hero in a blink. Even the watching Allan Bateman cannot be sure of his place when fit; the Swansea man's opening try, involving a classic hand-off, was simply his most obvious contribution.

As for Colin Charvis, who scored two tries worthy of any stage, Henry's contention that he is now a "world-class" back-row forward was impossible to deny. On form Neil Back might be the only other player in the British Isles who would make the Welsh back row, although Scott Quinnell failed to last this game because of a strained adductor muscle.

For all Henry's deft use of the scalpel, though, Wales are still vulnerable to the bludgeon and three close-range Pumas tries, including an injury-time penalty try, slashed a 26-6 home lead to a single point at the interval. Another try was ruled out for a forward pass early in the second half and it took further explosive scores by Charvis and Daffyd James, plus the unerring boot of Neil Jenkins, to stem the tide.

If nothing else Henry has breathed new life into the concept of sporting gurus. The message to under-achieving national sides, with apologies to the Manic Street Preachers, is now If You Tolerate This, Your Coaches Will Be Next.

Wales: Howarth; Thomas, Taylor, Gibbs, James; Jenkins, Howley; Lewis, Humphreys, Anthony, C Quinnell, Wyatt, Charvis, S Quinnell, M Williams. Replacements: Voyle for S Quinnell (44 mins), B Williams for M Williams (73mins). Not used: Rayer, Boobyer, Llewellyn, Morris, Evans.

Argentina: Contepomu; Corleto, Orengo, Arbizu, Soler; Contepomi, Pichot; Reggiardo, Mendez, Hasan-Jalil, Allub, Sporleder, Durand, Camerlinckx, Ruiz. Replacements: Albanese for Soler (74 mins), Simone for Orengo (65 mins), Martin for Durand (60 mins), Ledsma for Reggiardo (70 mins). Not used: FernandezMiranda, Fernandez-Lobbe, Scelzo. Sin-bin: Reggiardo (25 mins). Referee: A Lewis (Ireland)