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Rob Howley And Neil Jenkins Go Puma Hunting . . . Two Decades On

Rob Howley and Neil Jenkins will aim to turn back the clock almost 20 years when Wales face Argentina on Saturday.

The pair – assistants to coach Warren Gatland – were part of the last Wales team to win a series against the Pumas in South America.

It was 1999 when the half-backs combined behind a formidable Welsh pack to subdue Argentina after a brutal two Tests during which both packs repeatedly came to blows.

That was a Wales forward unit with bulk, power and an abrasive edge – Peter Rogers, Garin Jenkins and Ben Evans in the front row, Craig Quinnell and Chris Wyatt behind, and a back row of Colin Charvis, Brett Sinkinson and Scott Quinnell.

It wasn’t too bad, along the back line, either with Jenkins and Howley alongside Shane Howarth at full-back, Matthew Robinson, Mark Taylor, Allan Bateman and Dafydd James.

“In 1999 we were the first northern hemisphere side to win over in Argentina, we were working under Sir Graham Henry then,” Wales attack coach Howley said.

“We played in Buenos Aires and they certainly asked questions of our strength in depth. Argentina were a very good team at the time, very strong up front, and they had Agustin Pichot at scrum-half. It was a memorable win for us, historic, and hopefully we can replicate that.

“We then went on to beat them at the World Cup and I’m really looking forward to meeting Argentina. There is added pressure on the players to keep producing the goods with some of the senior guys absent.”

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Wales sealed a 36-26 victory over Argentina in the first Test in Buenos Aires in 1999 with the metronomic Jenkins kicking three conversions and four penalties.

A week later, the pair were at it again, Howley’s leadership at the base saw him get the better of Pichot as he cajoled his men to a 23-16 success.

Jenkins excelled again with five penalties and a drop goal. “From my memory I always remember Argentina being incredibly tough. They’re physical, uncompromising, and run hard to win the collisions,” the former fly-half said.

“The venues there are more football orientated, but the atmosphere is fantastic and it’s an amazing place to play.

“It was a long time ago now, but I enjoyed it when I played there so from my experience the rugby will be very tough. Argentina are going to be physical, there is no doubt about that.

“I’ve watched the Jaguares in Super Rugby this season against the Blues and the Chiefs and to go to New Zealand and win those two games was a very good achievement.

“If you look at Argentina over the last few years they’ve come into the Rugby Championship and now they’ve got a side in Super Rugby too. They’ve tried to evolve their game, they’re playing a lot more with ball in hand, and they’re showing off their skills as well too.

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“They’re going to be very dangerous, but the boys will enjoy that I’m sure.”

Wales have won five of their last six meetings against Argentina, all of which have come in Cardiff, but the Pumas are formidable on home soil with their giant forwards and enterprising backs.

Gatland’s side arrived in South America on Monday fresh from their dramatic 22-20 victory over South Africa in the American capital of Washington.

The Buenos Aires-based Jaguares are flying high in Super Rugby and Pumas boss Daniel Hourcade is certainly confident, claiming his men are in “unbeatable” condition.

“With the way the Jaguares are playing at the moment, Argentina are going to be very dangerous,” Howley said.

“They’ll be smarting from the disappointment of their last home series against England and we’ll be ready for a response from a side that’s going the right way.

“With a World Cup around the corner, both teams will be desperate to impress.”

“The majority of the boys Argentina select from come from the Jaguares. When you look at their side over the last six or seven weeks, they’re unbeaten.

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“It’s going to be a challenge, it’s a tough place to come, but the physicality they provide at set-piece will be one we look forward to and we’ll prepare as best as we can this week.”

George North is expected to switch back to his familiar position of wing after being trialled at outside centre against the Springboks.

Howley said: “You can expect changes, there’s another chance and another opportunity and in the big picture, we’re only 11 or 12 games away from the Rugby World Cup.

“There aren’t going to be many of those opportunities. Saturday was a success for us in terms of winning and giving those players exposure to the international game.

“We’ve got a number of Lions back at home and it gives these players a chance to put their hands up, as it did on Saturday.

“We will probably look to start George on the wing. He’s had the experience in the centre and we know he can play there.”

 

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