England take hard-fought victory over Argentina

England 37 Argentina 15
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The Independent Online

Delon Armitage scored twice as England continued their climb up the world rankings with a hard-fought victory over Argentina at Old Trafford.

Winger Matt Banahan was named man of the match after marking his Test debut with a try and Andy Goode booted 22 points as England moved above the Pumas to fifth in the world rankings.

England will be delighted to have kept Argentina tryless, although fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez was quick to punish any indiscretion and his 15 points kept the Pumas in touch.

England had slipped to their lowest ever ranking of eighth during the RBS 6 Nations after successive away defeats to Wales and Ireland.

But Martin Johnson's men have now strung together three straight victories - against France, Scotland and Argentina - for the first time since the 2007 Rugby World Cup.

Old Trafford has been England's home away from home before - in 1997 they were beaten by New Zealand after Richard Cockerill decided to antagonise Norm Hewitt during the haka - but today they were officially the visitors.

It was Argentina who used the Manchester United changing room after opting to stage the first of their two 'home' Tests against England in Manchester in an attempt to boost their coffers.

Despite their bronze medal finish at the 2007 World Cup, Argentina are trying to drag themselves into professionalism and convince the SANZAR nations they deserve a place at the Tri-Nations table.

A crowd of 40,521, sponsorship and a television deal with Sky will have helped raise an estimated £500,000 for the UAR's cause - if not the result against an England side shorn of nine Lions and featuring three Test debutants.

Argentina were strengthened by the availability of their three-strong Stade Francais contingent and Hernandez, the masterful fly-half, stroked them into the lead after 70 seconds with a nonchalant drop-goal.

Hernandez had pinned England back into their own corner with a pin-point kick and then profited when Dylan Hartley overthrew the lineout.

Hernandez missed the chance to extend Argentina's lead with a penalty soon after and as hard as the so-called 'Maradona of rugby' tried to weave his magic, the first half was dominated by Goode's boot and a ferocious breakdown battle.

Steffon Armitage and James Haskell competed well on the floor and Goode's tactical kicking took the sting out of Argentina's early thrust and he edged England 9-3 ahead with a two simple penalties and a long-range drop-goal.

Danny Care zipped around the base but the breakdown arm-wrestle left him with slow ball, which did not help England's attacking cohesion and the Old Trafford crowd grew frustrated with the aerial approach.

When England did piece together a slick attack it resulted in the opening try, with Banahan powering onto Armitage's grubber kick and through two defenders to touch down under the posts.

Goode, Dan Hipkiss and Mark Cueto had combined to send Armitage away with quick hands in a tight space and although the England full-back was taken out off the ball, Banahan pounced to score with a celebratory punch to the air.

Hernandez slotted a penalty in reply but England were gathering momentum.

Tom May blew one golden opportunity when his attempted miss-pass flew straight into touch when he should have kept it short and sent Armitage clear.

But powerful surges from Nick Easter and Dylan Hartley set the platform for Goode to strike his second drop-goal of the half and secure England a 19-9 half-time lead.

Goode extended England's lead with another penalty shortly after the restart and Hernandez responded with two of his own to keep Argentina in touch.

The Old Trafford crowd grew increasingly impatient by England's approach, greeting Steve Borthwick's decision to go for the posts with boos and slow handclaps.

When Goode made a pass to Cueto inside his own 22, it was greeted by ironic cheers.

The crowd soon got what they wanted with a try for Armitage after Care had launched a sizzling midfield break.

Care's pass to Cueto was poor but the England wing showed football skills suitable for the occasion by volleying the ball back infield and Armitage pounced for the second try.

Argentina full-back Horacio Agula was sin-binned for a professional foul but England failed to take advantage, not only because Goode missed a simple penalty but because Julian White soon followed him to the bin.

White had only been on the field for six minutes after coming off the bench to win his 50th Test cap.

But England rounded off the victory with a scintillating try from Armitage, who raced through the gears to chase down another volley from Cueto.

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