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Wales vs Argentina: 5 talking points

By PA
Louis Rees-Zammit - PA

Wales will target a third Rugby World Cup semi-final appearance in the last four tournaments when they tackle Argentina on Saturday.

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The quarter-final clash in Marseille comes after Wales collected 19 points from a possible 20 to dominate the pool.

Here, the PA news agency looks at some of the talking points heading into the game.

Wales in the driving seat

It would have been fanciful seven months ago to identify Wales as possible World Cup semi-finalists, given a miserable Six Nations campaign that saw them win one game.

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Head coach Warren Gatland has turned things around, though, masterminding an unbeaten group phase that produced key victories over Fiji and Australia.

In contrast, Argentina found it tough going, losing to 14-man England before posting an unimpressive win against Samoa and then qualifying as Pool D runners-up.

Team Form

Last 5 Games

0
Wins
3
5
Streak
2
13
Tries Scored
17
-51
Points Difference
37
2/5
First Try
2/5
2/5
First Points
3/5
2/5
Race To 10 Points
2/5

It is a first World Cup meeting between Wales and the Pumas since 1999, with Gatland’s team firm favourites.

Faletau loss a huge blow

Wales’ victory over Georgia last weekend was clouded by number eight Taulupe Faletau suffering a broken arm that ruled him out of the tournament.

With 104 caps to his name and a consistent ability to hit world-class standards, his absence cannot be sugar-coated, even if Wales have enviable back-row strength.

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Big players produce big performances in big games, and few Wales players have delivered such quality so regularly than Faletau during his 12-year Test career.

The shows goes on, but one of its star performers has left the stage.

Head-to-Head

Last 5 Meetings

Wins
2
Draws
1
Wins
2
Average Points scored
20
21
First try wins
40%
Home team wins
40%

Form and history favours Wales

Former Wales flanker Richard Webster once said that rugby is a sport played on grass, not paper, but form and history strongly supports a Wales victory on Saturday.

Four successive wins since losing their final World Cup warm-up match to South Africa represents a longest unbeaten run for more than two years, while Gatland has a 100 per cent record as Wales boss against the Pumas of played six, won six.

Argentina have beaten Wales only twice in the last 11 meetings, and their World Cup performances so far do not suggest an immediate turnaround in fortunes.

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Wales Argentina
Warren Gatland the Wales head coach talks to Liam Williams (R) and Louis Rees-Zammit during the Wales training session at Felix Mayol Stadium on October 12, 2023 in Toulon, France. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Biggar to boss the show?

Biggar is back at fly-half after recovering from a pectoral muscle injury suffered against Australia almost three weeks ago, with his leadership and game-management vital to Wales successfully negotiating their quarter-final hurdle.

The 33-year-old, who has won 111 caps, will retire from international rugby after the World Cup, and he is likely to be front and centre in Marseille as Wales target a triumph that would take them on the road to Paris for the tournament’s final fortnight.

His influence cannot be understated.

Jac Morgan – captain marvel

While Wales’ cap centurions like Biggar, Faletau and George North – who makes a Welsh record fourth World Cup quarter-final appearance – have all made their presence felt in France, the relatively inexperienced Morgan has also operated at an impressive level on a consistent basis.

Squad co-captain with hooker Dewi Lake, 23-year-old Morgan led Wales superbly in key pool-stage victories over Fiji and Australia, while his performances warranted the rave reviews they received.

There is a calm, quiet authority about the Ospreys flanker, who revels in Test rugby’s unforgiving and unrelenting environment.

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Poorfour 4 hours ago
The AI advantage: How the next two Rugby World Cups will be won

AI models are really just larger and less transparent variants of the statistical models that have been in use since Moneyball was invented. And a big difference between the Icahn centre’s results and AI today is that ChatGPT-like Large Language Models can explain (to some degree) how they reached their conclusions. In terms of what impact they will have, I suspect it will have two primary impacts: 1) It will place a premium on coaching creativity 2) It will lead to more selections that baffle fans and pundits. Analysts will be able to run the models both ways: they will see their own team’s and players’ weaknesses and strengths as well as the opposition’s. So they will have a good idea at what the other team will be targeting and the decisive difference may well be which coaches are smart enough to think of a gameplan that the other side didn’t identify and prepare for. For players, it places a premium on three key things: 1) Having a relatively complete game with no major weaknesses (or the dedication to work on eliminating them) 2) Having the tactical flexibility to play a different game every week 3) Having a point of difference that is so compelling that there isn’t a defence for it. (3) is relatively rare even among pro players. There have been only a handful of players over the years where you knew what they were going to do and the problem was stopping it - Lomu would be the classic example. And even when someone does have that, it’s hard to sustain. Billy Vunipola in his prime was very hard to stop, but fell away quite badly when the toll on his body began to accumulate. So coaches will look for (1) - a lack of exploitable weaknesses - and (2) - the ability to exploit others’ weaknesses - ahead of hoping for (3), at least for the majority of the pack. Which is likely to mean that, as with the original Moneyball, competent, unshowy players who do the stuff that wins matches will win out over outrageous talents who can’t adapt to cover their own weaknesses. Which will leave a lot of people on the sidelines sputtering over the non-inclusion of players whose highlights reels are spectacular, but whose lowlight reels have been uncovered by AI… at least until the point where every fan has access to a sporting analysis AI.

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