Classy Cueto evokes spirit of total football to see off Puma threat

England 37 Argentina 15
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The Independent Online

Martin Johnson was sitting in a cubby hole of a room in the south stand here at Old Trafford with a smile of quiet satisfaction on his face and the crest of Ajax football club next to him on the wall. Out on the pitch his England team had not exactly produced the rugby equivalent of the total football purveyed by the Dutch masters of the 1970s, but there had been a couple of classic touches by the man in the No 14 shirt.

Mark Cueto, a left-sided midfielder in his youth, sees himself as more of a Ryan Giggs than a Johan Cruyff but, on this evidence, England's right-wing has some party pieces drawn from the same magician's box as the great Ajax No 14. The first-time flick of the right boot that set up Delon Armitage for his first try just before the hour mark was impressive enough. The instinctive long-range left-footed volley that yielded the full-back's second score in the final minute was even more eye-catching. Asked whether he had visions of playing for his beloved Manchester United, Cueto replied: "I'd love to. I'm waiting for the phone call, but I'm not going to hold my breath."

At times on Saturday, the 40,521 crowd were not so much holding their breath as exhaling it in displeasure. There were boos and whistles ringing round the ground midway through the second half when Andy Goode went for a long-range drop goal and then a 40m penalty instead of shipping the ball wide. If nothing else, it was good preparation for the reception England can expect in the foothills of the Andes this coming Saturday when they face the Pumas on Argentine soil in Salta.

As Johnson observed: "We'll have to be even more disciplined, accurate, tenacious and resilient than we were today because we'll be in a pretty hostile environment. But that's good. It's good for this group. That's what you want to go through."

That group – shorn of nine Lions players and several injured personnel, and reduced to 29 with the release prior to departure yesterday of Tom Rees, Ben Foden and Jordan Turner-Hall – performed with markedly more cohesion than they had in defeat against the Barbarians in the non-cap contest at Twickenham seven days previously. For one thing, their midfield defence was tighter, thanks in no small measure to the test-match debutant Tom May. Not that the 30-year-old centre was the new boy who made the biggest impression.

The man-of-the-match honours went to Matt Banahan, who claimed the opening try in the 26th minute, thanks to a deft pass inside from Cueto and an inviting chip ahead by the outstanding Delon Armitage. At 6ft 7in and 18st, the former lock (he moved to the wing at the suggestion of Brian Ashton while a member of the Junior National Academy four years ago) has the wherewithal to give a new dimension to the national senior team.

"There are lots of people who have height and power but they don't all play on the wing in test matches," Johnson said. "I told him, 'We'll try to find the way to best use you.' And we did that today. I thought he did very well."

He did indeed, and Banahan had a special reason to celebrate afterwards, saying: "It's been great coming here as a Liverpool fan and finishing with a win."

Scorers: England Tries Banahan, D Armitage 2; Conversions Goode 2; Penalties Goode 4, Drop goals Goode 2. Argentina Penalties Hernandez 4; Drop goal Hernandez.

England: D Armitage (London Irish); M Cueto (Sale), D Hipkiss (Leicester), T May (Newcastle), M Banahan (Bath); A Goode (Brive), D Care (Harlequins); T Payne (Wasps), D Hartley (Northampton), D Wilson (Newcastle), S Borthwick (Saracens, capt), L Deacon (Leicester), J Haskell (Wasps), S Armitage (London Irish), N Easter (Harlequins). Replacements: J Crane (Leicester) for Easter, 63; P Hodgson (London Irish) for Care, 63; J White (Leicester) for Wilson, 63; Wilson for Haskell, 72; S Vesty (Leicester) for May, 73; M Tait (Sale) for Banahan, 75; B Kay (Leicester) for Deacon, 76; Haskell for S Armitage, 79; S Thompson (Brive) for Wilson, 80.

Argentina: H Agulla; G Camacho, M Avramovic, G Tiesi, F Aramburu ; J M Hernandez, N Vergallo; R Roncero, A Basualdo, JP Orlandi, P Albacete, M Carizza, A Galindo, J Leguizamon, J M Fernandez Lobbe (capt). Replacements: M Ayerza for Orlandi, 56; E Lozada for Galindo, 68; E Guinazu for Busualdo, 71.

Referee: C Berdos (France).

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