Even so they were by a long way the more creative and imaginative side yesterday and by a mixture of invention, effrontery and sheer pace they caused England a mighty embarrassment, from the fifth minute when Gonzalo Quesada kicked the first of the Puma's six penalties until Jason Leonard's try six minutes from time. Had it not been for a number of generous refereeing decisions in England's favour the Pumas might have won.
They should certainly have reached half time on better than level terms, Quesada having kicked three penalties to match the three by Mike Catt. Apart from an inspirational flash of running rugby from the new cap Nick Beal after Will Carling's flat pass across the length of the three-quarter line had carved a huge hole in the Argentine defence, England offered nothing beyond the bump and grind of scrummage, maul and a line-out which despite its towering size operated fitfully throughout the match. There were, as back-up, the easily countered charges of an unimaginative back row.
So successful were the tourists in their counter-attacking that they completely dominated the second quarter of the match and when Diego Albanese impudently dummied England's attackers inside his 22 to launch a series of bewildering switches, it required Andy Gomarsall's blatant obstruction on Pablo Bouza to prevent a certain try. Midway through that rippling movement, Tony Underwood, who had been comprehensively Lomued in the World Cup, was equally unceremoniously Sporledered as the Argentine lock splattered him all over the Twickenham turf. I feel another pizza ad coming on.
In some ways the difference in styles between the sides was embodied by the scrum-halves. Fernandez Miranda, quick, alert, and wonderfully intuitive against Gomarsall, all enthusiasm and wasted energy. The Englishman takes far too much upon himself and so early in his international career should concentrate on his service to others.
England's lack of leadership was ominously apparent at the start of the second half when the Argentines, having comfortably soaked up England's opening pressure, began once again to take control. Having come to cheer, the crowd began to jeer. But even this was half-hearted, as if deep down they were hoping for a Puma victory.
The Argentines were, after all, providing all the entertainment and with Quesada's fifth penalty they had taken the lead 12 minutes into the second half. That lead was extended 11 minutes later, shortly after Jerry Guscott for once sprang loose from his marker and appeared to score a legitmate try in the corner. Unfortunately for England, the touch judge had spotted Martin Johnson's assault on Albanese and the try was disallowed. Magnificent player though he is, Johnson's behaviour occasionally oversteps the boundary of what is acceptably controlled aggression, and he was fortunate to remain on the field after a high tackle later in the game.
It was at this point that Ben Clarke replaced Chris Sheasby, whose defensive frailties had been exposed on a number of occasions. It was not so much that he failed to put in the tackles as the fact that the Argentine ball carriers made ground with their charging runs.
The final straw for England's supporters came when Catt, who surely cannot continue to enjoy the support of his coach for much longer, completely mishit a clearance and with two England forwards yards offside Quesada kicked his sixth penalty.
Catt's fifth penalty, 14 minutes from the end, kept England in touch but for every forward step he made he took at least two back. A dreadful pass to Carling inside the England 22 put yet more pressure on the defence but this time they turned it to their advantage and with Lawrence Dallaglio leading a one-man crusade upfield England won a line-out inside the Argentine 22. Johnson almost inevitably won it and with a concerted drive the pack collapsed in a heap over the line. Regan emerged with the ball although the majority of the forwards went to congratulate Leonard and England, teetering on the brink of unthinkable defeat, had achieved a forgettable victory.
There are very few places left for Jack Rowell to hide after this. His pack are as cumbersome as they are big. They have neither the pace nor the athleticism to cope with the demands of the modern game. Yesterday they did not even tackle particularly well. The half-backs are equally out of tune with what is required and, of the famed centre partnership, we saw almost nothing. It is much too late to return to the drawing board but where on the learning curve are England now?
England: N Beal (Northampton); J Sleightholme (Bath), W Carling (Harlequins), J Guscott (Bath), T Underwood (Newcastle); M Catt (Bath), A Gomarsall (Wasps); G Rowntree (Leicester), M Regan (Bristol), J Leonard (Harlequins, capt), M Johnson (Leicester), S Shaw (Bristol), T Rodber (Northampton), C Sheasby (Wasps), L Dallaglio (Wasps). Replacement: B Clarke (Richmond) for Sheasby, 61.
Argentina: E Jurado (Rosario); G Camardon (Asociacion Alumni), E Simone (Leceo Naval), L Arbizu (Belgrano, capt), D Albanese (San Isidro); G Quesada (Hindu), F Miranda (Hindu); R Grau (Liceo), C Promanzio (Duendes), M Reggiardo (Castres), P Sporleder (Curupayei), G Llanes (La Plata), R Martin (San Isidro), P Bouza (Duendes),P Camerlinckx (Regatas Bella Vista).
Referee: T Henning (SA).