England 16-9 Argentina, Twickenham, November 14
England notch narrow victory over Pumas
November 14, 2009
England manager Martin Johnson was under increasing pressure coming into his side's latest clash
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Steve Borthwick Paul Doran Jones Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe Dylan Hartley James Haskell Martin Johnson Santiago Phelan Jonny Wilkinson
England laboured to an uninspiring 16-9 victory over Argentina in their clash at Twickenham.
A second-half try from winger Matt Banahan spared England's blushes following a dour contest but his late score failed to disguise another woeful display from Martin Johnson's side. Two penalties and a drop goal from England fly-half Jonny Wilkinson were cancelled out by Pumas centre Martin Rodriguez in an error-ridden opening period dominated by the boot before the desperate hosts conjured a late face-saving score.
Johnson made four changes to his side following their 18-9 defeat to Australia last weekend with hooker Dylan Hartley, prop Duncan Bell, No.8 James Haskell and scrum-half Paul Hodgson all drafted into the line-up in the hope of creating an edge that was sorely missing last time out.
Pumas captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe led out a largely inexperienced side with an untested half-back pairing of Santiago Fernandez and Alfredo Lalanne and three new caps in the form of Rodriguez, winger Mauro Comuzzi and flanker Tomas Leonardi.
England opened the scoring in the second minute after a charge down from Lewis Moody eventually saw Wilkinson slot a drop goal to put his side in the lead. There could and perhaps should have been more reason to celebrate just a minute later when a fumble from Fernandez Lobbe was pounced upon by winger Mark Cueto but he did not have the pace to escape the clutches of fullback Horacio Agulla who forced the ball loose with a good covering tackle.
England were soon on the back foot when a hack through looked to have created a scoring opportunity for Lalanne but Wilkinson was there to snuff out the danger. Argentina continued to press but Fernandez could only hit the post with a drop goal attempt. England loose-head Tim Payne was penalised for not binding at the next scrum to allow Rodriguez to level the goals from straight in front.
A swift counter attack up the short side soon had England retreating and Haskell was the next to be penalised for going off his feet at a ruck and although Rodriguez's effort had the distance he failed to hit his target. The kicking contest continued midway through the half when the Pumas were penalised for not releasing and Wilkinson edged his side ahead once more with an excellent kick from distance.
Another handling mistake from fullback Ugo Monye gifted the Pumas another scoring chance and Rodriguez pulled his side level once more. Fernandez was off-target with drop goal attempt just short of the half hour mark but England's indiscipline soon handed Rodriguez the opportunity to make up for that miss but again his effort sailed wide.
Monye offered some hope of more ingenuity with a smart break but his handling woes returned when he fumbled a kick ahead inside his own 22. England's binding was again at fault at the next scrum and Fernandez Lobbe had no hesitation in pointing at the posts. And his kicker did not let him down with Rodriguez slotting his third kick. But the Pumas immediately undid their hard work with Martin Scelzo blatantly infringing at a ruck to allow Wilkinson to tie the scores up again.
England had a chance to reclaim the lead shortly after the re-start after prop Rodrigo Roncero was caught offside but Wilkinson's frustrating day with the boot continued. Next it was the Pumas who had the chance to take a grip on the game after England's woes at the scrum continued but Rodriguez was wide of the mark again.
An injection of pace from Cueto soon had the Pumas scrambling and Fernandez's rushed clearance handed England an attacking lineout in the 22. But a crunching tackled from Lucas Borges on Cueto slammed the window of opportunity firmly shut.
England began to give the ball some more air in a bid to raise the tempo but failed to make any significant impression and had to rely on a deliberate knock on from veteran hooker Mario Ledesma for their next scoring chance. Wilkinson failed to take advantage with the lengthy kick just out of his range. He was handed another chance as the game continued to build to a anxious climax but his latest wayward effort did little calm the nerves of his side and those present.
A strong run from Haskell carved out the next opportunity and with captain Steve Borthwick in support they surged forward. The ball was recycled and worked wide to Moody who took the ball into the 22 before off-loading to Banahan who powered his way over for the try. Wilkinson's conversion gave the hosts some more breathing room as the clock ticked down but the game was far from won.
Back came the Pumas with first Lalanne and then Patricio Albacete making big gains but England were eventually rescued by the whistle of referee Nigel Owens. There was still time for Argentina to cause yet further cause for concern and chasing the game they stretched the home side who were clinging on at the final whistle.