Match action - starts
IF international rugby is meant to be special this tussle between England and Argentina did not pass the test in any respect.
Although England scored two tries, through Nathan Hughes and Semesa Rokoduguni, to one by Nicolas Sanchez, to secure this victory over the Pumas, their eventual margin of victory was flattering – and the visitors had good reason to feel aggrieved with officiating that favoured the hosts.
After an opening quarter which was almost funereal in its pace, England took a 6-3 lead with George Ford kicking two penalties to one in reply by Emiliano Boffelli. It was then that Argentina had their wings clipped when Joaquin Tucuclet was sinbinned for a high ball challenge on Mike Brown.
It started with the Argentine full-back chasing hard after a box-kick by scrum-half Martin Landajo, with Brown coming towards him at speed and attacking the high ball with his customary aggression and courage.
The key to the contest was that Tuculet had his eyes fixed on the ball throughout, and although he did not get off the ground as high as Brown – and the two got their arms entangled as they came down with Brown pitching forward onto his head – the blow suffered by the English full-back was accidental.
Instead, it was ruled that Tuculet was guilty of dangerous play, and with his side reduced to 14 England managed to make their first breakthrough.
With Rokoduguni replacing Brown, and Anthony Watson moving to full-back, they regrouped and struck after a strong carry by Elliot Daly saw them camped in Argentina’s half.
When Ben Youngs found Mako Vunipola, the loose head-prop, who had another outstanding game, flicked the ball back to Ford.
The England fly-half had already seen that Hughes was hanging out in the right tramline in acres of space and he fizzed a 20 metre cut-out pass into the path of the big No.8.
Despite an initial juggle Hughes held onto it and powered through the tackles of Boffelli and JuanMartin Hernandez for the opening try, and although Ford could not add the touchline conversion it gave England an 11-3 advantage midway through the first-half.
England were blunt in attack for large tracts of this opening Autumn international. Part of the reason is that they have a shortage of damaging ball-carriers in the pack and were unable to fracture a tenacious Argentina defence with any regularity.
Only three of the eight forwards in this line-up were capable of carrying the ball into the teeth of the defence, with Nathan Hughes, Mako Vunipola and Courtney Lawes putting their hands up.
Eddie Jones is going to require more hard yards merchants than that if England are to become world beaters, and his back row in particular look short of attacking firepower outside Hughes and the injured Billy Vunipola.
The other reason for the shortfall is that this Red Rose back line seemed short of the strategic thinking and poise required to exploit openings, with passes being fired all over the shop with wishful thinking triumphing over accuracy.
Among the main culprits on this occasion were Henry Slade and Anthony Watson, with both probably guilty of trying too hard rather than playing with the confidence they do for their clubs.
However, Argentina were unable to capitalise, not least because their goal-kicking – usually a strong suit – was dire.
Hernandez has so often been Argentina’s inspiration but he did not help them here when he missed two bread-and-butter penalties in quick succession, and when Ford hit the target soon afterwards England stretched their lead to 14-3.
It stayed that way until half-time, but the anticipation of greater things to come in the second-half were soon dashed. The stalemate of box-kicks and chase continued, and when a rare chance to break free of the defensive lockdown materialised the execution was faulty.
This was encapsulated when a fluid handling move involving Youngs, Ford, Vunipola, and Jonathan Joseph ended with Slade firing a wild pass a metre in front of Hughes.
The lack of basic control was also evident up front, notably when a second attempt at a five metre line-out drive saw Sam Underhill and Dylan Hartley botch the transfer of the ball to let the Pumas off the hook.
England could thank their lucky stars that Argentina’s accuracy was no better, with Boffelli and Nicolas Sanchez – on for Hernandez – continuing the goal-kicking collapse that saw them squander 14 points.
If that was not enough of a handicap, Argentina were on the receiving end of further punishment, when, with a quarter of an hour left to play, Alex Lozowski – who replaced
Just like that: Nathan Hughes stretches out to score England’s first try against the Pumas
Divebomber: Semesa Rokoduguni touches down England’s second try
Impetus: Nathan Hughes dives over for England’s first try
Pumas pounce: Nicolas Sanchez scores for Argentina