DAVID BARNES @ Stade de Marseilles
RUMOURS of England’s demise appear to have been greatly exaggerated, with Steve Borthwick’s side overcoming the red-carding of flanker Tom Curry in the third minute of their World Cup opener to run out convincing winners over a well-fancied Argentina side who failed to deliver on any level.
George Ford was the hero of the hour and 15 minutes he was on the park, before being replaced towards the end amid rapturous applause from the England support in the stadium. The stand-off – who would almost certainly not have started this game had skipper Owen Farrell not been suspended – kicked all 27 of his team’s points, including three first half drop-goals which steadied English nerves and ignited some fire in their bellies after a shambolic build-up to this World Cup tournament and a chaotic start to this particular game.
It is a performance and result which will stir belief in England that their team can indeed be serious players in this tournament, and head coach Borthwick clearly felt a sense vindication after a tough few World Cup prologue which featured a defeat to Fiji in their final warm-up match.
“I talked during the week about how I sensed from the players that they felt they had been written off a little too early, and I think they are a quality group of players and we saw that on the pitch today,” he said. “A lot of people have been talking and writing columns about us and I think our players showed their experience on a big occasion.
“Right now, we’re pleased with the win and pleased that we stepped forward in some areas, but we have to adapt because we are going through a disciplinary process now with Tom Curry, so we’ll have to be ready for what comes with that before playing Japan next Sunday in Nice.
“These players should rest, recover and enjoy this win because they deserve it, and from a coaching point of view we are already moving on to Japan, and our preparation with the team will start on Monday night.”
“I thought George [Ford] was magnificent this evening,” he added. “We’ll all talk about his kicking to score those points, but his composure and management he showed throughout. I think what we saw tonight is an example of the great leadership in this England team. I see a group of senior pros who are fantastic leaders, like Courtney Lawes, Jamie George, Ellis Genge, the list goes on. Not one man wins a game – they all do – and they did very well tonight.”
The early sending off came after Curry was responsible for head-on-head contact with Argentinean full-back Juan Cruz Mallia as he collected a high ball.. The flanker was initially yellow-carded with the incident also referred to the ‘bunker’ (also known as the ‘Foul Play Review Officer’ who now has the authority to review such incidents and recommend an appropriate sanction).
Edinburgh’s Emiliano Boffelli kicked the penalty from halfway but missed an opportunity to double Argentina’s lead just two minutes later with another long-range effort, this time after Courtney Lawes had gone off his feet at a ruck.
England were rattled, but then Argentina committed their own crazy act of self-harm, with Santiago Carreras checking opposite number Ford well after he had kicked the ball and seeing yellow for his troubles. Ford, showing no ill effects from that late challenge, stepped up to slot his first points of the evening.
English celebrations were short lived, however, because before the game restarted, a message reached referee Mathieu Raynal that Curry’s yellow-card should be upgraded to a red – meaning they would play 77 minutes of this match with 14 players at most.
England’s faltering confidence was evident when they managed to create a mismatch on the right only for Ben Earl to prod a wasteful kick into touch when they really needed to ask some questions with ball in hand.
The fact that Argentina were badly out of sorts was demonstrated when a quickly taken line-out was transferred all the way across the park only for Mateo Carreras to kick out on the full.
Somebody needed to grab this game by the scruff of the neck, and Ford stepped forward to be that man when he launched 30-yard drop-goal to edge England into the lead, then repeated the trick a few minutes later from just outside his own half to stretch the scoreboard gap to six points.
Santiago Carreras tried to turn the tide by launching a long-range drop effort of his own, but this one fell harmlessly short and to the left of the posts, and when Pablo Matera was penalised for a late hit on Freddie Steward, it gave England the field position for Ford to slot another three points made it 12-3 at the break.
If Argentina head coach Michael Cheika delivered a rocket to his misfiring side during the break then it didn’t have the desired effect, with a succession of fumbles, collapsed scrums and breakdown infringements further eroding Los Pumas’ confidence, while Ford kicked two ruck penalties six and 13 minutes after the restart to stretch his team even further ahead.
He kicked another one on 58 minutes when Argentina yet again made a hash of collecting a high kick and ended up playing the ball from an offside position, then he was off target from halfway just a few minutes later when Earl won a penalty over the tackled man – but it didn’t really matter so long as England were still bossing events, which they were.
Ford was soon back on target with a penalty on 66 minutes, and when Argentina briefly sparked into life with a rare passage of powerful carrying, Maro Itoje and Lewis Ludlum got under the ball carrier to prevent the try.
Ford’s final act before being replaced by Marcus Smith with five minutes to go was to kick his sixth penalty of the night (on top of those three first half drop goals), and while Argentina snatched a late try through Rodrigo Bruni, it will have provided the Pumas with scant consolation.
England: F Steward; J May, J Marchant, M Tuilagi (O Lawrence 68), E Daly; G Ford (M Smith 75), A Mitchell (D Care 58); E Genge (J Marler 53), J George (T Dan 71), D Cole (W Stuart 49), M Itoje, O Chessum (G Martin 58), C Lawes (L Ludlam 65), T Curry, B Earl.
Argentina: J Cruz Mallia (M Moroni 3-11); E Boffelli, L Cinti, S Chocobares, M Carreras; S Carreras, G Bertranou (L Bazan Velez, 69); T Gallo (J Sclavi 49-66), J Montoya (A Creevy, 67), F Gómez Kodela (E Bello 62), M Alemanno (G Petti 40), T Lavanini (P Rubiolo 49), P Matera, M Kremer, J Martin Gonzalez (R Bruni 58)
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)
England: Pen: Ford 6; DG: Ford 3
Argentina: Try: Bruni; Con: Boffelli; Pen: Boffelli.
Scoring sequence (England first): 0-3; 3-3; 3-6; 3-12 (h-t) 3-15; 3-18; 3-21; 3-24; 3-27; 8-27; 10-27.
Yellow cards –
Argentina: Carreras (9 mins)
Red cards –
England: Currie (3 mins)