Santa Fe (Argentina) (AFP) – Opportunity knocks for several Wales fringe players in Santa Fe Saturday as the tourists seek to complete a perfect Americas adventure by defeating Argentina a second time.
Centre Owen Watkin and scrum-half Aled Davies are among the players keen to impress coach Warren Gatland as he continues to experiment.
Many coaches basking in the glory of a 23-10 triumph over Argentina in San Juan last weekend would have given a vote of confidence to the 15 starters.
But the New Zealand-born coach is on a mission of discovery, keen to add depth to his squad ahead of the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.
Wales came to the Americas without some many of their big hitters and began with a 22-20 win over South Africa in wet and humid Washington.
An Argentine team stacked with Jaguares who had won six Super Rugby matches in a row were expected to bring the Welsh down to earth with a thud.
But brave defending and clinical finishing delivered a convincing victory for the visitors over the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-finalists.
“The Welsh team is in a good place,” said a proud Gatland. “We are on the right track toward the 2019 World Cup.”
Emboldened by mastering the Pumas in San Juan, Gatland made five changes, one enforced with inside centre Hadleigh Parkes injured.
Watkin replaces Parkes and the other backline change sees Aled Davies inherit the scrum-half shirt from Gareth Davies.
Both Watkin and Aled Davies can do their hopes of securing tickets to Tokyo a lot of good with top-class performances in Santa Fe.
In the pack, hooker Ryan Elias, tighthead prop Tomas Francis and flanker Ellis Jenkins come in for Elliot Dee, Dillon Lewis and Seb Davies.
Interestingly, Gatland has gone for two openside flankers in Jenkins and James Davies, a star of the first Test.
They will form the back row with Ross Moriarty, who started in both previous Tests and made more tackles than anyone else in San Juan.
“We want to go home with three victories from three Tests,” stressed Gatland.
“But we know the challenge that we are up against this weekend and we also are looking at the bigger picture.
“We might have picked a slightly different team if it was just about results, but it is about more than that.
“It is about building for the 2019 Rugby World Cup in Japan.”
While Wales believe they are on the right track, Argentina have lost their way with 20 losses in 26 Tests since a better-than-expected fourth place at the last World Cup in England.
Full of confidence because of the Jaguares’ form, which included a victory over twice Super Rugby champions Waikato Chiefs in New Zealand, they were outthought and outfought.
The old ‘Pumas’ failing of not translating pressure into points returned and clumsy handling cost them dearly a couple of times when the tryline was in sight.
Skipper and flanker Pablo Matera and his fellow forwards never dominated the Welsh and looked demoralised long before the whistle sounded a final time.
However, while Gatland has changed five of a winning team, rival coach Daniel Hourcade settled for a solitary alteration to the team that ran on in San Juan.
Veteran scrum-half Martin Landajo starts in place of Gonzalo Bertranou, who drops to the substitutes’ bench.
Hourcade, the mastermind of the 2015 World Cup campaign, will expect much more from his pack, particularly Matera, fellow flanker Marcos Kremer and inspirational hooker Agustin Creevy.
Wales have won four of seven Tests in Argentina and lost three, scoring 207 points and conceding 200.