England delivered an impressive performance to negotiate a determined but understrength Argentina 37-15 at Old Trafford.
Despite what the scoreline suggests, it wasn’t completely slick by the hosts, and one suspects a full strength Pumas side would have troubled them. But given the poor state of England rugby and the fact that they have lost a number of players to the Lions, the victory will be all that matters.
They’ll be proud of their defensive effort because to deny any Argentina side a try is an accomplishment in itself. There were good signs, and those that hinted back at their poor 2008 campaign, but coach Martin Johnson would be more encouraged than despondent.
Collectively they stood up to the physical challenge well in both the set phases and in the loose, while their was also impressive individual performances, particularly in the tight five and from scrumhalf Danny Care. Argentina seemed rudderless on attack and vulnerable on defence, but what more can be expected of a side that plays so few games together?
England fell behind early to a Juan Martín Hernández drop-goal, before flyhalf Andy Goode drew level with a penalty. Ten minutes later Goode slipped into the pocket and sunk a 40m drop-goal, to take the lead.
England then worked a brilliant move from a lineout. The ball was shifted wide to Mark Cueto, who passed inside to a hard running Delon Armitage. He chipped through and debutant Matt Banahan collected after a favourable bounce to score under the posts. Goode added the extras.
Hernandez sunk a penalty, but Goode restored their advantage soon thereafter with his second drop-goal. The half finished with the Pumas’ flyhalf slotting another three pointer to send the sides down the tunnel with the score at 19-9.
England had dominated the breakdown in the first half, and the Pumas were being regularly pinned for infringements at that facet of play. One such penalty resulted in them conceding another three points.
Argentina looked a formidable unit when they stayed patient through the phases, and this forced England into ruck infringements. Hernandez banked two more penalties to drag his side back into the contest, but the Pumas then conceded a try at a crucial time, Cueto opting to nudge a poor pass ahead for Armitage to score. Goode converted, and at 32-15, Argentina knew they needed to lift their game exponentially if they hoped to cause an upset.
That improvement never came, and instead it was England who resisted wave after wave of attack, before scoring a carbon copy of their second try to put the nail in the coffin. Goode’s crossfield kick was punted forward on the full from Cueto, and Armitage won the race to the ball to seal a good win.