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