Dull England scrape to win over Argentina

England 16 Argentina 9
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The Independent Online

Matt Banahan's third Test try earned England the victory they craved over Argentina but the result will do little to ease the pressure on Martin Johnson.

England were being held at 9-9 by the Pumas before James Haskell sparked their one bright moment on a grim afternoon at Twickenham and Banahan finished off the try.

A tigerish performance from Lewis Moody apart, England were dreadful.

Johnson had assured fans all week they would see an immediate improvement after last Saturday's 18-9 defeat to Australia and a performance described by forwards coach John Wells as "turgid".

But this was worse. Argentina had only been together for a week and the spirited Pumas undermined all England's excuses about needing time to build a performance.

The Rugby Football Union fork out millions of pounds a year to ensure Johnson has better access to his players than any previous England management.

And yet, for much of the game it was Argentina who were the more cohesive unit. It was certainly the Pumas who played the smarter rugby in wet and windy conditions.

In the first half, Ugo Monye was exposed at full-back as Argentina peppered him with high balls and the Twickenham crowd became so frustrated they began to jeer.

When England left the field at half-time, with the scores at 9-9, boos rang around the stadium.

Johnson made three changes to the spine of the England team in the hope of injecting some urgency and dynamism into the performance, with Paul Hodgson given a first Test start at scrum-half while Haskell returned at number eight and Dylan Hartley at hooker.

So bare is England's cupboard that Gloucester's rookie prop Paul Doran-Jones was named on the bench after just 266 minutes of Guinness Premiership experience.

Argentina were hit by injuries too, with playmakers Juan Martin Hernandez and Felipe Contepomi plus wingers Gonzalo Camacho and Lucas Amorosino all sidelined.

Jonny Wilkinson's tactical kicking was disappointing again but he stroked England into the lead with a drop-goal after setting up the chance with a huge tackle on the Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe.

As the barrage of kicking continued, England earned their first real opening when Lobbe dropped a steepling kick under pressure from Moody and Mark Cueto broke clear but he could not out-pace Argentina full-back Horacio Agulla.

Despite missing so many key creative players it was Argentina who showed the most inclination to attack.

Rodriguez shaved the post with a drop-goal attempt but drew Argentina level with a penalty after Tim Payne was penalised for not binding at the scrum.

Rodriguez drilled a second effort wide after Haskell was penalised for being offside but Wilkinson responded with a successful long-range strike to nudge England back into the lead.

Monye, a stand-in full-back for England, was struggling badly as Fernandez continued to pepper him with high balls.

When his third attempted catch went to ground, Haskell compounded the problem by diving on the ball and conceding another penalty which Rodriguez accepted gratefully.

The Twickenham crowd of nearly 78,000 were growing restless. When Monye successfully claimed a wayward drop-goal effort from Fernandez he was greeted by ironic jeers from the stands.

Shane Geraghty was then booed for kicking the ball straight into touch instead of launching an attack.

Cueto tried to inject some tempo into the game and Monye defied his high-ball troubles to launch a powerful break but he then spilled a grubber kick to invite more pressure on England.

When England were again penalised at the scrum, Rodriguez edged Argentina ahead with a third penalty but the Pumas conceded almost immediately.

Wilkinson drew the scores level at half-time, when England switched things around with Cueto moving to full-back and he immediately looked much more at home in the position.

England's kick-chase was almost non-existent - with Moody the only player haring around and he managed to get half a block on Agulla's clearance.

Wilkinson did well to spot Argentina offside and exploited it with a grubber kick to earn the penalty, but he drilled it wide from 40 metres out.

England received another let-off when Rodriguez missed from a similar range and Cueto took it on his shoulders to inject some pace into the game with a confident take and counter-attack.

Cueto's angled kick forward was chased again by Moody and the pressure forced Argentina to gift England a lineout 10-metres from the line.

But there was little invention on England's attack and Cueto was chopped down by a ruthless tackle from Pumas winger Lucas Borges and the attack was snuffed out.

Finally, with 10 minutes remaining, England managed to create the kind of dynamic rugby they had promised from the outset.

Haskell sparked the move with a midfield break, Steve Borthwick off-loaded and the ball was spread wide via Cueto and Moody for Banahan to score in the corner.

The giant Bath winger touched down under the posts - his third Test try in four games and all against the Pumas - allowing Wilkinson a simple conversion.

Argentina piled the pressure on at the death in search of the draw but England defended gallantly to hold on.