Familiar answer to old problem

Geoffrey Nicholson discovers that after all the fine talking the tired and trusted won the day
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The Independent Online
England will probably be happy to see the back of this autumn's thankless tests of character and technique, and relieved to return to the bosom of the national curriculum when the Five Nations starts in the New Year. They had been damned when they didn't win against the New Zealand Barbarians, and damned (with faint praise, at least) when they did against Italy. Feelings were even more mixed after this game against Argentina when the unthinkable, a defeat by a rebuilding side, stared England in the face until the final 10 minutes. At least when they return to Twickenham to face Scotland on 1 February they will know from 126 years' experience exactly what is expected of them. Victory at all costs.

Like Italy before them, Argentina were built up as opponents who couldn't be discounted - but still had to be beaten soundly if England were to keep any shred of self-respect. It was another match from which it was hard to earn any credit. Win handsomely and everyone would say that Argentina had been overmatched. Struggle to win and England would again be seen as dismally underwhelming. And that must be the final verdict after a game eked out in teaspoonsful of excitement, and won only by the points from a powerfully rucked try.

So what was the value of the series in building the new England side? Injury had taken over as chairman, bringing the dream ticket of Carling and Guscott together again in the centre and returning Tony Underwood to the wing. But it hadn't contributed to the vexed question of stand- off, where it would have been good to see whether Mike Catt was really the greatest talent the nation could produce. What about that young chap, Rob Andrew, for instance, who had shown some nice touches for the Barbarians?

This was particularly pointed in the opening moments when Gonzalo Quesada's first kick went sweetly and distantly into touch, and Catt's dropped into into the hands of Diego Albanese on the wing. Quesada then went on to give Argentina the lead with first of the penalty goals by which the two sides continued to rack up the score for the next hour or so.

To be fair to Catt, he answered in kind, for the most part keeping England three points ahead. And though it had less to do with the changes in personnel than a tactical rethink, England were beginning to vary the length of their passes and the speed of delivery to give Guscott and the wings more space. But it all had the flavour of the practice field about it, the long passes began to go to ground and, except for Guscott's disallowed try in the second half, produced nothing.

The tourists, for all their extravagant mistakes, were the side who showed natural flair for the game, and Fernandez Miranda at scrum-half, with his partner Quesada, played with a quickness and understanding that outshone anything England could contrive. It was the old flailing ruck that finally saved the host's skins.