Key Clash Preview: England v Argentina

Manu Tuilagi

England begin their 2011 Rugby World Cup campaign against South American powerhouses Argentina. If the red roses want to go one further than their last outing in the tournament Martin Johnson’s men will need to get off to a flying start against an opponent they have had mixed results against over the past few years.

Date: 10th September 2011
Time: 09:30 GMT (20:30 NZ Time)
Venue: Otago Stadium, Dunedin
Referee: Bryce Lawrence (NZL)

There has been so much talk of England’s chances leading into this game that we cannot think of a more high pressure opening game for the Six Nations champions. Argentina, despite their stunning run to third place in 2007, come into the game as underdogs and without many of the key names that helped them defeat the hosts during their opening match four years ago.

England’s warm-up games saw them pick up two wins, one against Wales and one against Ireland in Dublin, the side’s first win in the Irish capital since the match that clinched the 2003 Six Nations Grand Slam for them. Despite a loss to Wales in their second match, the team travelled to the land of the long white cloud brimming with confidence and generally feeling positive. It is a team with a balance of inexperienced players, such as new star Manu Tuilagi, and old heads in the form of Jonny Wilkinson, Andrew Sheridan et al. However Johnson will be eager to temper that confidence and make sure the side don’t get too cocky ahead of the match.

Argentina had one international warm-up match, in August against Wales, losing 28-13. But all signs from the camp seem to show that their momentum hasn’t been damaged and many could argue that the Pumas come into the match with fresher legs than their European opponents. However, their back line with have to match the performance of the front eight if they want to come away with victory.

What to expect:
All eyes will be on the first scrum with both countries coming to the competition with a monstrous pack. Earlier this week former England loosehead, Graham Rowntree, said that Argentina will be the ultimate test for the pack so a big game is needed, especially from the front row. Elsewhere, captain Mike Tindall will want to prove that his great performance in Dublin two weeks ago was not a one off, and that his new partnership with the latest of the Tuilagi dynasty has reignited his game. The back three of Ashton, Foden and Armitage will also want to come into the game. Focusing on Argentina, the side will want to bully their opponents up front and put pressure on scrum-half Richard Wigglesworth to disrupt his distribution as much as possible. Not much has been said about their back line further than legendary fly-half Felipe Contepomi but there is a fair bit of skill and experience there. Gonzalo Tiesi brings a physicality that many centres his size cannot match while winger Gonzalo Camacho lit up the Aviva Premiership for Harlequins and must not be given space.

All eyes on:
For England the focus will be on Manu Tuilagi. The 20-year-old has had two great outings for his adopted country and fans will be keen to see him add to his 100 per cent try record this time around. He continues to develop with more game time but if he can bring in Ashton and Foden effectively, acting almost as a dummy runner on occasions, he is likely to be a key factor.

Argentina’s focus, as described above, will be on the scrum, so Rodrigo Roncero and Mario Ledesma will need to ruffle some English feathers alongside Juan Figallo who is still a little wet behind the ears when it comes to the international stage. If the front row can provide a platform at scrum time and put doubt into the likes of Andrew Sheridan, Steve Thompson and Dan Cole then it will be a step towards victory.

Head-to-head: Jonny Wilkinson v Felipe Contepomi
There is no doubt this game is likely to be a tight affair and the two fly-halves will need to keep the scoreboard ticking over if they are to ensure an opening win for their teams. They have been discussing each other all week, looking back at their time together at Toulon, almost gushing like former lovers. Contepomi even went as far to say he would rather see Toby Flood start as he considers Wilkinson one of the top three players in the world. There will be no love lost on the paddock though.

Last fixture: England 16-9 Argentina, 14th November, 2009. Twickenham, England.

Weather Forecast: Cloudy.

If you believe the English press, this match will seem almost like a formality, but it is a fool who writes off Argentina so easily. They will be fired up for this match so expect the famous South American passion to burst onto the pitch come Saturday evening. They will put up a solid fight up front and will try to match the English across the pitch. However, I think their resources will be stretched too far with a constant barrage of powerful runners coming through the middle. And with the likes of Dylan Hartley, Matt Stevens, Tom Wood, Ben Youngs and Toby Flood on the bench for England, it may be a bridge to far. England by nine points.

By Nick Winn

7 thoughts on “Key Clash Preview: England v Argentina

  1. I think you’re spot on Nick but you’ve got to remember that a good scrum isn’t just about a beefy front row. Technique is key and if all 8 aren’t working as a group, it just isn’t going to happen, no matter how big your 1, 2 and 3 are. The England scrum has more experience than the Pumas but that can lead to complacency. I think if we can have solid set piece, that’s going to get us through the game.

    9 points. Yeah, I’d like to see a little more though (a similar result to the NZ/Tonga game would be great!)

  2. Very fair reflection Nick. I would add a couple of caveats though, the first is discipline. The first half hour will be crucial, with such South American passion and also with England’s slightly mixed track record this could become a one sided affair via the boot (could go either way), especially dependent on the ref’s interpretations at scrum time: its almost “who cracks first”. The second is that if England really are on course for a Semi or a Final appearance they should be dispatching Argentina after an initial tough battle, and by this I mean by at least 15 points. If they scrape through manfully (which is still a good result against the Argentines) we may not progress past the 1/4ers. The question remains…how good are we really when it counts?? This match is the litmus test.

  3. If we’re going to throw our hats into the the ring as serious challengers for this world cup, a winning margin of at least 20 is essential. Our pack is mobile and experienced enough to front up to the south americans and our backs should easily outclass theirs, they do have two top class finishers though. If Foden, Ashton and Armitage get themselves involved as much as possible, I would say winning by 20 points is’nt unreasonable. We also have the ever reliable Wilkinson to keep the score board ticking over in the red rose favour. Will be intersting to see if Tuilagi and Tindall can progress on what is arguably Englands first dangerous and effective centre partnership since the Guscot/Greenwood days.

  4. Nicely put Nick, and personally in our first game of the RWC against Argenitna, I would be happy with a 9 point victory. Saying that we are more likely to score more points against Argentina than Scotland, as the Scots have been very stingy on their own try line recently. But it is our first game, and possibly our trickiest in the group. I fancy England and Scotland to beat the Argies to stop them getting past the group stage. The Argentina and Scotland games are about winning (it doesn’t matter how), and the Romania and Georgia games are about how many points we can score to ensure if we have lost a game, we can still get enough points to progress. I am assuming it works on a points system the same way it does in the Premiership and Six Nations?

  5. Inclined to agree with James, but then we didn’t exactly impress in the opening games of 2003. Hope we don’t see a repeat of the Samoa heart-attack game.

    I think that’s a great point Nick – if our opponents focus on Manu it does create a big opportunity for the back three, particularly Ashton. I hope that is in the gameplan. If it’s all about playing to your strengths, then the interplay between those 4 will be a key area for us to exploit.

    I have to get up at 3am and pay bloody $35 pay-per-view, so I hope they make it worth my while.

  6. Thanks for the feedback boys and girls, much appreciated. Looking at the score prediction, the reason I think it will only be nine is because I still consider Argentina a potential banana skin for England. If we don’t find our rhythm quickly, and our discipline suffers (great shout by the way Mauman) Contepomi will punish us. Additionally, I’ve always felt that the best way to win a World Cup is to build momentum throughout. England, in fact any team, needs to have their “final” at the right time and not peak too early. With the exception of the 1987 World Cup (when New Zealand cheated by actually training before the tournament), teams have built their momentum as they have moved on.

  7. Very excited about this game now. The new stadium looks awesome, and it’s basically indoor rugby – and that should suit England in this fixture.

    The key for me is quick ball. The back five need to hit rucks like they mean it and clear people out – not just step over the tackled man, but drive them back five yards. That will give Wiggy and Wilko the platform to send Tuilagi running at people, and the pacy back three running lines off them. That’s the game, it’s easy, isn’t it?!

    I’ve got England by 10 on SportGuru, expecting it to be a battle for 60 minutes, but I’m hoping for more.

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