England suffered a shattering start to their ‘mini World Cup’ autumn campaign as the national team slumped to their first defeat against Argentina since 2009.
This shock result against Michael Cheika’s Pumas represents a frustrating setback for Eddie Jones and his Red Rose squad after their summer series victory in Australia. Emiliano Boffelli scored 25 points as the South American visitors ended a sequence of 10 successive defeats against England over a period of more than 13 years.
Argentina had only ever won at Twickenham once before, in 2006 and this was a timely occasion to repeat that elusive feat. These teams will meet in a World Cup opener in Marseille next September and instead of maintaining their dominance over their pool-stage rivals, England have allowed them to gain a precious psychological boost. They also allowed Cheika to savour a victory over Jones which eluded him when he was in charge of the Wallabies.
Argentina stunned an 80,000-strong Twickenham crowd with a deserved victory
This defeat is a fifth in nine Tests for England in what is becoming a year of wildly fluctuating fortunes. They lost three of their five games in the Six Nations to prompt another uncomfortable inquest but then recovered from a 1-0 deficit to win 2-1 Down Under.
Now they have lost this autumn opener, at the start of a daunting campaign – with fixtures to come against Japan, followed by the might of New Zealand and South Africa.
England were expected to win this and had the advantage of set-piece command until the closing stages.
But despite some thunderous charges by Joe Cokanasiga, and the all-round impact of props Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler, the hosts were unable to build any sustained pressure and rhythm and fluency. There was no lack of hard graft, but a shortage of cohesion and finesse.
Argentina secured their second away victory over England following on from 2006 success
Now they face an uncomfortable post-mortem before taking on the Japanese, who gave New Zealand a fright in Tokyo in their last outing.
A pre-match monsoon did little to encourage an enthralling spectacle as both teams were forced to adjust to the trying conditions. It was all very one-dimensional early on; kicks back and forth, aiming to induce errors and generate attacking territory. While it wasn’t pretty, it was effective, with a series of fumbles meaning there was no real flow to proceedings.
The first significant sequence came in the ninth minute when Billy Vunipola thundered forward in midfield but was stripped of the ball as he was tackled and Argentina broke clear down their right flank. The up-shot was a penalty which Emiliano Boffelli dispatched to put his side 3-0 up.
Owen Farrell responded in kind at the other end, before Boffelli’s second shot on target put the Pumas ahead again. But England were gradually becoming more threatening – as the rain had abated to make handling easier – and they claimed the first try of the game in the 25th minute.
England has now lost five of their last nine Tests in a wildly fluctuating year for Eddie Jones
The opening was created by a flash of creativity involving the home half-backs. England had attacking possession on the left and from a ruck, Ben Youngs spotted Marcus Smith darting forward and delivered a clever little chip over the visitors’ defence for the No 10 to chase. Santiago Carreras, Argentina’s fly-half, was forced to rush back and carry the ball over his own line.
From the resulting scrum, England struck. A good shove by the pack created the platform and when the ball came back, Youngs’ delayed pass allowed Joe Cokanasiga to blast through a tackle and twist to score. Farrell added the conversion to make it 10-6.
There was more worthy endeavour from Jones’s side for the remainder of the first half, aided by their scrum dominance, but they were unable to add another try before the break. Instead, the game revolved around a goal-kicking exchange; Boffelli, Farrell, Boffelli, Farrell – to leave the hosts four points in front at the midway stage.
Early in the second half, the pendulum swung dramatically Argentina’s way as they conjured a sensational try to take the lead. From an attacking lineout on the right, the Pumas unleashed a deadly strike move along the back line, with Juan Cruz Mallia’s drag-back in midfield releasing Santiago Carreras and the playmaker’s glorious, flat pass sending Boffelli away to slide over in the left corner.
The try-scorer couldn’t convert from a wide angle, but the Pumas struck again, out of nowhere, in the 51st minute. England were probing near halfway when a Farrell pass aimed at Billy Vunipola fell loose and Santiago Carreras picked up and raced clear to score from distance. Farrell was adamant that there had been a knock-on in the build-up, but a TMO review didn’t pick one up and the try stood. Boffelli converted to make it 24-16 to Argentina and an upset was on the cards.
Stung into life, England rallied. Jack van Poortvliet was brought on to replace Ben Youngs and within 22 seconds of coming on to the field, the rookie Leicester scrum-half claimed a try. From a lineout on the left, Ellis Genge carried hard and from the ensuing ruck, Van Poortvliet spied a gap, burst through it and surged to the line, fending off two defenders to score. Farrell’s conversion reduced the deficit to a point and the England captain put his side ahead again with a 61st-minute penalty.
The home side couldn’t see it through though. They were never in control. Argentina kept up a fierce physical onslaught and capitalised on the penalties which kept coming their way. Boffelli landed two more and the second of them, 10 minutes from time, proved decisive.