England beat Argentina 13-9 at the Otago Stadium in Dunedin after trailing for most of the match.
The Poms wore their controversial black jerseys for this game, which seemed appropriate when the Pumas led 9-3 with 15 minutes to go. However, replacement scrumhalf Ben Youngs prevented his countrymen from being plunged into mourning when he scored the only try of the match after his forwards had won a lineout and set up a maul that pulled in Pumas defenders.
Argentina should have won this game, having been in control of it for long periods. Flyhalf Felipe Contepomi and fullback Martin Rodriguez combined to miss six penalties out of nine, although England No 10 Jonny Wilkinson also had a nightmare with the boot, succeeding with just two penalty goals from seven attempts.
England emerged victorious despite being blown to pieces by New Zealand referee Bryce Lawrence at the breakdown, although they had only themselves to blame most of the time.
After being given a team warning, England were reduced to 14 men when tighthead prop Dan Cole was sin-binned for a professional foul six minutes before the break, but the Pumas couldn’t make their numerical advantage count. They did come close, though, when 38-year-old hooker Mario Ledesma was knocked into touch and almost knocked out cold by a knee to the head from Courtney Lawes.
Until Young crossed the line late in the second half, England’s best try-scoring opportunity had come midway through the first, when fullback Ben Foden burst through a gaping hole in the Pumas defence. However, Delon Armitage opted to stay out on his left wing and got man and ball. Importantly, Argentina lost Contepomi to injury in that passage of play, with the captain being replaced by Marcelo Bosch.
The Pumas made two linebreaks in the first two minutes of the second half, but couldn’t get the try and instead had to settle for a penalty, which would be their last points of the game. When Wilkinson kicked a penalty to give England a four-point lead with five minutes to go, you just couldn’t see Argentina scoring the try they needed to win.
The Pumas now need to beat Scotland and the minnow sides in Pool B in order to reach the quarter-finals, while England will have to improve substantially if they plan to progress past that stage of the tournament.
By Simon Borchardt