Wales take on Argentina in Marseille
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A World Cup semi-final place is on the line as Wales take on Argentina in Marseille.
Warren Gatland’s side arrive at this stage unbeaten, topping Pool C to set up this encounter with the Pumas, who have bounced back well from a disappointing defeat to England in their tournament opener.
Both sides have suffered significant injury blows ahead of the last eight fixture, with key back rowers Taulupe Faletau and Pablo Matera ruled out.
The battle between the remodelled units at the base of the scrum shapes as just one key battleground in an intriguing tactical encounter.
Here are three key areas that could prove decisive on Saturday.
Reshuffled back row battle
Faletau and Matera are two totemic figures around which Wales and Argentina’s forward packs are built. Their absences require both coaches to reconsider their combinations, and a clear contrast in approach becomes clear.
Argentina possess a series of long, strong athletes in their back five, offering both ability at the lineout and packing a real punch around the corner, particularly defensively. Marcos Kremer, who will combine with Juan Martin Gonzalez and Facundo Isa in the back row, is not a traditional opensid, with the converted lock mean and muscular on the gainline. Isa’s introduction adds extra ball-carrying prowess but Argentina don’t utilise a traditional back row fetcher, with hooker Julian Montoya their primary breakdown threat.
Where Kremer, and lock Guido Petti, do excel at ruck time is in attack. Both are busy and effective clearout men, a skill that will be vital in preventing Welsh pilfering fingers from disrupting Argentina’s possession.
Wales, conversely, have opted for two expert jackallers in their starting side, with Tommy Reffell joining captain Morgan on the flank. The fact that the pair both start should ensure that Argentina always feel like they might need an extra body to secure breakdown ball, potentially throwing off their attacking patterns.
Wales have opted to start Tommy Reffell in Taulupe Faletau’s absence
“It was a healthy debate with the coaches in terms of which way we went,” Gatland explained. “Did we go with a traditional six, someone a little bit bigger? But we felt that the way that Tommy has played, the breakdown is going to be really important on the weekend. It’s a matter of getting our best players on the field. We’ve got a couple of world-class sevens at our disposal.”
Lineout in focus
Argentina and Wales have both been smooth operators at lineout time at this tournament, with both units in the top five for success percentage across the World Cup so far. The world-class Montoya has had to throw a lot of challenging darts – data from Opta shows that more than a quarter of Argentina’s lineouts have been directed to the back.
While that might usually indicate a willingness to play off the top, it has also allowed the Pumas to get favourable situations to launch into a maul. No team is making more than Argentina’s 37.3 maul metres per game – while a dynamic group of outside backs will provide plenty of threat, Michael Cheika’s side have the forward strength to excel if the game becomes an arm-wrestle.
Argentina’s lineout has worked effectively so far in France
Wales, conversely, have thrown to the tail less than 10% of the time, but the importance of lineout solidity is reflected in their hooker selection. Co-captain Dewi Lake is considered a front row star of the future but the nuts and bolts of his game are perhaps in need of tightening up; Ryan Elias, a starter again on Saturday, perhaps offers greater consistency throwing in, with Lake offering dynamism off the bench.
The Welsh kicking strategy should also be of interest. Against teams with strong mauls in the past, they have deliberately kept the ball infield when exiting their 22 via the boot, denying them opportunities to drive. Wales have defended well in phase play at this tournament – another high tackle count may await.
“Rees-lightning” meets Argentina’s own jet-heeled star
Mateo Carreras and Louis Rees-Zammit have encountered one another at club level
The head-to-head on one wing will pit two of the fastest men in the rugby world against one another, with Louis Rees-Zammit and Mateo Carreras donning their sprinting spikes and preparing to test one another on the wide outside.
Rees-Zammit is the zoomer poster boy, a TikTok and documentary star with half-an-eye on Bryan Habana and Jonah Lomu’s record tally of eight tries in a single World Cup. But, at least in terms of pure speed stakes, Argentina’s Carreras is probably his equal, perhaps lacking in Rees-Zammit’s global profile but an equally dangerous strike-runner.
The pair are slightly different fastmen, the Welshman taller and thus longer of stride. Carreras is shorter and possesses a choppier gait, making him an incredible accelerator, like a wind-up toy into gaps when attacking the line. Both have the ability to almost apparate into space, as they showed when recording matching hat-tricks on the final weekend of pool action.
“I’ve played a couple of times against him in the Premiership,” Rees-Zammit said about Carreras on Thursday. “He’s pretty electric. He’s fast, he’s got a good step on him. He could be quicker than me!
“He’ll be ready for this weekend, for sure. It’s exciting to be up against him. I can’t wait for it.”
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