|England: (12) 27|
|Pens: Ford 6 Drop-goals Ford 3|
|Argentina: (3) 10|
|Try: Bruni Pens: Boffelli Con: Boffelli|
George Ford kicked 27 points to steer England to a magnificent World Cup victory over Argentina after they were reduced to 14 men after three minutes.
Tom Curry was sent off by the bunker review system for a clash of heads with Juan Cruz Mallia that took place in the third minute in Marseille.
Fly-half Ford kicked three drop-goals to give England a 12-3 half-time lead.
England controlled the second half and Ford added 15 points as England started Pool D with a morale-boosting win.
Rodrigo Bruni powered over in the 79th minute for the only try of the game for hapless Argentina.
There’s not exactly a large sample but this was, by a million miles, the biggest win of Steve Borthwick’s reign as England coach, a win that he not only wanted but very badly needed to quell the gathering storm around his running of the team.
It was an old school triumph that was in name only similar to the feast of rugby on Friday night when France beat the All Blacks. But if England are to revive themselves, it has to start somewhere – and this was hugely encouraging.
Despite being down in numbers for all bar a few minutes, it was a win orchestrated by the unflappable Ford, who took the game by the scruff of its neck and didn’t let go.
Their dominance was then hammered home by England’s physicality, which hasn’t been spotted so much of late. England beat the Pumas in every facet. It was no oil painting of a game – very far from it, in fact – but given where they were coming from, the England management might have been minded to look at it like a thing of wonder hanging in the Louvre.
The pre-match pressure on England was as intense as the Marseille sun, the criticism playing out on a loop before this contest.
Four wins in their last 13 Tests, a win percentage of 33% under Borthwick, a 50-point loss to France not long ago, a first loss in their history to Fiji fresh in the memory, no coherent gameplan, no physical dominance, a plodding pursuit of tries, little in the way of excitement or hope.
Everything came down to the Stade Velodrome. For England fans, there would have been a buzz but also a dread around this World Cup opener and that would only have hardened when Curry, just back from injury, went high in a tackle on Mallia in the second minute and got a yellow that was upgraded to a red by the bunker review.
The Sale flanker was off the pitch before a significant number of England fans had made it into the ground because of long delays outside the stadium during security checks.
England’s poor discipline, and alarming card count, is another area that has vexed them. Emiliano Boffelli punished them with the resultant penalty. But, wait. Minutes after Curry walked, so did Santiago Carreras for a late hit on Ford.
The England fans howled for a red upgrade, but it never came. What also never came was a Test of quality.
It was a slugfest between two sides who battled forlornly with their own attacking shortcomings, but England had way too much for the Pumas. Even with 14 men, they won with ease. Their forwards squeezed all life and hope out of their opposite numbers.
Courtney Lawes was terrific. Maro Itoje roared back to form. Manu Tuilagi was a powerhouse in everything he did in the midfield and as an auxiliary flanker, but Ford was the main man. His game management was decisive.
Ford banged over a penalty to level it at 3-3 then started to drop-kick the Pumas to distraction. There were moments – fleeting ones – when England looked to go wide and play, but there was little conviction and confidence in what they were doing.
When Ford put over the first of his conversions – a beauty – he didn’t really have any other attacking option.
When he landed his second – from somewhere close to Marseille port – he wasn’t blessed with options then either.
In this surreal trip back to the 1990s when drop-goals were considered fashionable, the Pumas had a crack themselves, but fly-half Carreras had none of Ford’s brilliant execution.
The Ford hat-trick came just before the break. A line-out, an England rumble, static ball. Ford had enough, called for it and put England 12-3 clear. None of it was easy on the eye. Only rarely did the crowd become energised, but England had to win somehow. A beauty contest, it was not. England ground the Pumas into the dirt.
Argentina either froze or were over-hyped to begin with. Their decision-making with what little ball they had was wretched. They hardly raised a gallop all night. England gave them the square root of nothing. You had to constantly remind yourself that this was 14 Englishmen versus 15 Pumas.
Ford put further distance on the scoreboard with a penalty early in the new half and the lead stretched out to 12. Then he did it again before it went to 15. This was the rhythm of the night. England drove forward, the Pumas infringed and Ford made them pay. It went to 21-3 and 24-3. A rout.
Eventually, after an age, the Pumas got into the England 22. They advanced to the England line, huffed puffed and… got turned over. Their body language at that point was of broken men. The final whistle could have sounded and it would have come as a blessed relief.
There was a little more pain, and a little more Ford, before Bruni’s late try.
Nobody saw this coming. The Pumas will never want to see it again. England, under a cloud that only darkened when Curry departed, have something to build on at last.
England: Steward; May, Marchant, Tuilagi, Daly; Ford, Mitchell; Genge, George, Cole, Itoje, Chessum, Lawes (capt), Curry, Earl.
Replacements: Dan, Marler, Stuart, Martin, Ludlam, Care, Smith, Lawrence.
Argentina: Mallia; Boffelli, Cinti, Chocobares, M Carreras; S Carreras, Bertranou; Gallo, Montoya (capt), Gomez Kodela, Lavanini, Alemanno, Martin Gonzalez, Kremer, Matera.
Replacements: Creevy, Sclavi, Bello, Petti Pagadizabal, Rubiolo, Bruni, Bazan Velez, Moroni.
Referee: Mathieu Raynal (France)