The tourists had rattled up almost 300 points in their five previous matches, at a staggering average of 58 per match, running in 44 tries on the way. They added three more, one of them a penalty try, last night. But until they came up against Tony Diprose's team they knew they had not been tested.
First blood went to England when stand-off Paul Grayson landed the first of his five penalties. But after a period of intense pressure Argentina went ahead when tight-head prop Omar Hassan-Jalil was heaved over from a tap-penalty.
Grayson restored his side's advantage with two further penalties but by then the A team had lost two key players. Scrum-half Matt Dawson, playing on his home ground, left the action on a stretcher having suffered what looked to be a serious injury to his left knee. He was followed by centre Andy Blyth who received what the duty doctor described as a deep gash to his forehead which required extensive needlework.
England had a try disallowed immediately after the restart and Grayson's fourth penalty two minutes later was some compensation, but Argentina promptly closed the gap with a try by left wing Facundo Soler.
That spurred the Argentinians and they applied pressure which eventually saw England A crack. A collapsed scrum close to the line earned the tourists a penalty try and Jose Luis Cilley's solitary success of the night, a conversion from in front of the posts. England could have gone further behind but some brave defence kept out another Argentinian thrust and they finally broke the tourists' stranglehold to push back upfield and apply the screws in their turn.
A rugged run through the middle by Garath Archer took England close and when replacement hooker Gary French turned scrum-half at the resultant ruck, Richard Hill snapped up the accurate pass before sending Hackney over in the corner. Grayson knocked over the conversion and had the final say with a penalty on the whistle to earn a margin of respect for his side.
England A: Try Hackney; Conversion Grayson; Penalties Grayson 5. Argentina: Tries Hasan-Jalil, Soler, penalty try; Conversion Cilley.
ENGLAND A: I Hunter (Northampton); S Hackney (Leicester), W Greenwood (Leicester), A Blyth (Newcastle), D Luger (Harlequins); P Grayson (Northampton), M Dawson (Northampton); K Yates (Bath), R Kellam (London Irish), J Mallett (Bath), G Archer (Newcastle), D Sims (Gloucester), W Davison (Harlequins), R Hill (Saracens), A Diprose (Saracens, capt). Replacements: N Walshe (Harlequins) for Dawson, 20; J Ewens (Bath) for Blyth, 30; G French (Bath) for Kellam, 58; P Sampson (Wasps) for Hunter, 80.
ARGENTINA: D Giannantonio; T Solari, G Camardon, L Arbizu (capt), F Soler; J-L Cilley, C Barrea; M Reggiardo, M Ledesma, O Hassan-Jalil, J Simes, G Llanes, R Martin, R Perez, C Viel.
Referee: J Kaplan (Durban, SA).