England up and running with unspectacular victory over Argentina to begin autumn internationals

England 21 Argentina 8: A try in each half by Nathan Hughes and Semesa Rokoduguni made the difference, along with some woeful goal-kicking by the Pumas

Hugh Godwin
Twickenham
Saturday 11 November 2017 17:52
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England are up and running in the autumn series
England are up and running in the autumn series

England's opening autumn international ended in the victory all of Twickenham expected, but the route to the result was a meandering amble rather than anything riotously uplifting.

A try in each half by Fijian-born recruits Nathan Hughes and Semesa Rokoduguni made the difference, along with some woeful goal-kicking by the Pumas, and though England were never remotely in danger of losing, Dylan Hartley's men will hope and expect to be slicker and more penetrative when they host their old rivals Australia here next Saturday.

England had rested Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje, giving Henry Slade a rare starting chance at inside centre and a second cap at openside flanker to Sam Underhill.

While Itoje sat in the West Stand alongside team manager Richard Hill, Farrell was deployed as a high-powered water boy, ferrying drinks and possibly instructions to the England players.

If ever a match that some could have done without in this cluttered season was an opportunity knocking for someone, it was for Underhill.

The 21-year-old who joined Bath from the Ospreys in the summer is a human jack-hammer, and his first tackle on centre Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias was a typical effort combining accurate technique with pile-driving power to stop the opponent dead in his tracks.

Ford was hit and miss from the tee 

The most recent of Argentina’s four wins in the previous 22 meetings between these sides had come in Salta in 2009 – which was also the last occasion England wore their traditional white kit in the fixture.

Here the home team were garbed in dark grey which for the most part was a colour match for the skies overhead on a chilly afternoon.

Much more importantly, both teams knew they would not meet again until a Pool C match at the next World Cup in Tokyo on 5 October 2019, where they will be in a group with France, Tonga and the USA, and only two can qualify for the quarter-finals.

That will be then; in the here and now, this match took a painfully long time to wake up.

Hughes imposed himself and was a strong presence throughout 

George Ford, who came in with a kicking success rate of 68 per cent in Tests to Farrell’s 80, hit a post with his first effort for England, from 45 metres’ distance.

The Leicester fly-half then potted a couple from closer to the target, either side of a penalty for Argentina by Emiliano Boffelli, and England led 6-3.

The first big flashpoint came in the 22nd minute as Mike Brown caught a high box-kick and was clattered into by his opposite number, Joaquin Tuculet.

Brown landed heavily on his shoulder, with his head also appearing to make contact with the turf, and given his history of concussion it was no surprise to see the Harlequin replaced immediately without an injury assessment.

Brown was forced off after landing awkwardly 

Tuculet had been in mid-air and may even have got a touch on the ball but the referee Marius van de Westhuizen judged he had not been in a position to contest it properly, and sent the Puma to the sin bin – 12 months after England’s Elliot Daly was shown a red card for a tip tackle in this fixture.

England readjusted with Rokoduguni brought onto the wing, and Daly moved temporarily to full-back, before Ant Watson switch into the position many see as his long-term destiny.

And in England’s next attack, they had their opening try.

Hughes had already been attracting Puma tacklers like moths to a flame with his breaks off the scrum – one of them in a sweet combination with Mako Vunipola, Courtney Lawes and Chris Robshaw - and the Wasps No.8 was heavily involved as England broke down the right.

Tuculet was sin-binned for his part in the collision 

As England recycled in midfield, Ford flung a long pass to his right that missed out four team-mates and was taken by Hughes with a wonderfully adroit juggle off his chest, and he breezed past Boffelli and Juan Martin Hernandez for his first international try.

Hernandez missed two penalty shots that would have given Argentina much-needed points, as the team based solely on players representing the home-based Jaguares Super Rugby side.

It has been a far cry from the 2015 World Cup when Argentina marched to fourth place, pushing New Zealand close in a Wembley group match and thrashing Ireland in a Cardiff quarter-final along the way.

One of those penalties came from a scrum where England’s loosehead prop Mako Vunipola was severely skewed by the Pumas front row.

Lozowski entered the fray and was instrumental in England's second try 

But England steadied themselves with a third penalty for Ford, after 33 minutes, when Slade was tackled without the ball by Marcos Kremer in the visitors’ 22.

Slade struggled to make his mark in attack, as he kicked possession away and horribly misdirected a pass aimed for Hughes in the third quarter.

The Exeter man did contribute a fine clear-out as England attempted a catch-and-drive try through their captain, Dylan Hartley, who was extending his sequence under Jones to 20 wins in 21 matches – the only let-down in Ireland last March.

But England’s forwards were twice repelled, and it was the cue for Jones to seek inspiration from the bench as, among other changes, Joe Launchbury and Jamie George replaced George Kruis and Hartley, and Alex Lozowski joined Slade in the centres, with Jonathan Joseph withdrawn.

Replacement Rokoduguni crossed in the corner to seal the win 

Boffelli missed a long-range penalty attempt on 57 minutes, and Hernandez’s replacement Nicolas Sanchez followed suit from 35 metres.

And England made them regret the profligacy as Lozowski hurtled through a gap between Argentinian forwards, and Slade’s long pass put Rokoduguni over for a try converted by Ford for 21-3.

Argentina had not had a sniff of a try as the match entered the final five minutes, so maybe England had gone some way to establishing themselves as “bulletproof” against the future World Cup opponents, as coach Jones has been demanding, even if Sanchez finally punctured the home defence with three minutes remaining.

Teams

England: M Brown; A Watson, J Joseph, H Slade, E Daly; G Ford, B Youngs; M Vunipola, D Hartley (capt), D Cole, C Lawes, G Kruis, C Robshaw, S Underhill, N Hughes.

Replacements (all used): E Genge, J George, H Williams, J Launchbury, S Simmonds, D Care, A Lozowski, S Rokoduguni.

Argentina: J Tuculet; R Moyano, M Moroni, S Gonzalez Iglesias, E Boffelli; JM Hernandez, M Landajo; S Garcia Botta, A Creevy (capt), N Tetaz Chaparro, M Alemanno, T Lavanini, P Matera, M Kremer, T Lezana.

Replacements (all used): L Noguera, J Montoya, E Pieretto, B Macome, L Senatore, G Bertranou, N Sanchez, S Cancelliere.

Referee: M van der Westhuizen (South Africa)

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