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Friday, October 1, 1999 Published at 11:17 GMT 12:17 UK

Puma injury blow ahead of Wales clash

The dragon should roar, but Argentina can cause upsets

Argentina have suffered an injury blow just hours before their World Cup opening clash with Wales, as hugely experienced lock Pedro Sporleder withdraws.

The former Puma captain was forced to pull out of the Millennium Stadium match on Friday afternoon after failing a fitness test on a persistent groin injury.

Fever pitch

Sporleder, capped 65 times, will be replaced by Ignacio Fernandez-Lobbe, while Raul Perez moves up to the bench.

[ image: Pedro Sporleder: Ban lifted for World Cup]
Pedro Sporleder: Ban lifted for World Cup
The expectation of a glorious tournament for Wales has reached fever pitch, despite the best efforts of coach Graham Henry and captain Rob Howley to downplay the side's chances.

But few people genuinely believe that the dragon will not roar its way to an ninth consecutive victory over arguably their toughest group opponents.

The two teams could not have had more contrasting build-ups.

Admittedly, Wales had a miserable start to this year's Five Nations, with losses to both Ireland and Scotland.

Since then, however, New Zealander "King" Henry and his men have done little wrong, triumphing over France then England, before seeing off world champions South Africa in the first ever match at the Millennium Stadium.

During their preparations they also toured to Argentina and handed the Pumas an historic two-Test whitewash before defeating the dismal French once again.

In fact, Wales have beaten their Pool D opponents in their last three encounters and, given the Argentines' rocky progress towards the tournament, you have to favour the men in red again.

Rugby, not politics

Add to that the return to fitness of "the world's fastest prop", Scott Gibbs, at centre and things look very good for the hosts indeed.

[ image: Scott Gibbs: Back in action]
Scott Gibbs: Back in action
The Pumas are suffering from severely wounded pride following string of poor performances and that makes them both dangerous and unpredictable.

The worst internicine wranglings of the last 12 months are now hopefully behind them, freeing the side up to concentrate on rugby rather than politics.

But the feuding has cost them two coaches, Jose Luis Imhoff and Hector Mendez - the latter of whom walked out on the side just two weeks before the tournament.

The situation was further complicated by the suspension of then skipper Sporleder and hooker Mario Ledesma for verbally abusing a referee.

Both players were conditionally allowed back to compete in the World Cup, although the incident cost Sporleder the captaincy.

Another New Zealander, Alex "Grizz" Wyllie, has finally been appointed coach, following the resignation of the last incumbent, Hector Mendez, .

Upset potential

There a few cannier coaches in international rugby and it is a certainty that Wyllie will not tolerate the sloppiness that saw Argentina soundly beaten by a half-hearted Ireland last month.

The Pumas have undeniable potential to create upsets, especially considering that they thumped Five Nations champions Scotland at Murrayfield the week before losing to the Irish.

All eyes will be on Bristol scrum-half Agustin Pichot to create many of the side's chances. If he can get into the match, the Pumas are likely to create all manner of problems for Wales.


Wales: S Howarth (Newport); G Thomas (Cardiff), M Taylor (Swansea), S Gibbs (Swansea), D James (Llanelli); N Jenkins (Cardiff), R Howley (Cardiff, capt); P Rogers (Newport), G Jenkins (Swansea), D Young (Cardiff), C Quinnell (Cardiff), C Wyatt (Llanelli), C Charvis (Swansea), B Sinkinson (Neath), S Quinnell (Llanelli).
Replacements: J Jones-Hughes (New South Wales), S Jones (Llanelli), D Llewellyn (Newport), M Voyle (Llanelli), A Lewis (Cardiff), B Evans (Swansea), J Humphreys (Cardiff).

Argentina: M Contepomi (Newman); O Bartolucci (Rosario), E Simone (Bristol), L Arbizu (Brive, capt), D Albanese (San Isidro); G Quesada (Hindu), A Pichot (Bristol); R Grau (Saracens), M Ledesma (Curupayti), M Reggiardo (Castres), I Fernandez-Lobbe (Liceo Naval), A Allub (Jockey Club), S Phelan (CASI), L Ostiglia (Hindu), G Longo (San Isidro).
Replacements: G Camardon (Alumni), F Contepomi (Newman), N Fernandez-Miranda (Hindu), R Martin (San Isidro), O Hasan (Agen), A Canalda (Newman), Raul Perez.

Referee: Paddy O'Brien (New Zealand).

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