England 31-12 Argentina
England still some way from the perfect performance
November 9, 2013
Dylan Hartley shone for England but they will wonder what happened in the second-half © Getty Images
It was another win for England, but another match where they played well for just half of the game.
It was a first-half performance packed with pace, precision and appetite. Argentina had little answer to what was thrown at them. But while England emerged as a different beast in the second-half last week against the Wallabies, this week they lacked focus and execution after the break. Had Argentina shown more ambition and had fate dealt them a different hand with their ever-increasing casualty list, they could have made England sweat.
The first-half was a wonderful display by England. Billy Twelvetrees received plenty of flak for his showing against the Wallabies, but he looked calm on the ball as Stuart Lancaster's men clicked. Lee Dickson and Owen Farrell put plenty of pace on the ball, constantly shifting the point of attack and England had a swagger about them. Chris Robshaw turned down kicks at the posts in favour of attacking position and Joe Launchbury's score off the back of a driving maul was just rewards for Robshaw's gamble.
Argentina's defence was flimsy as Twelvetrees carved through them for try number two while Chris Ashton, who squandered a chance he should have taken, profited from accurate passing to grab their third. Dylan Hartley, who was the deserved Man of the Match, was showing plenty of grunt and made some dents in the Pumas' defence while Tom Wood was playing superbly at blindside and marshalling the breakdown. A 24-6 lead and the game was as good as over.
But England switched off in the second-half. The accuracy and intensity was gone, Owen Farrell's kicks were missing touch and they were playing sluggish, lateral rugby with no penetration. Lancaster admitted they failed to find that same level of consistency and this will be the focus of his attention in training this week.
Eventually a fourth try followed and Ben Morgan's score was indicative of how they played in the first 40 as Danny Care's quick ball at the breakdown put him through the middle - they targeted a point of attack and went for it, instead of looking for ways around the Pumas. It may not be attractive rugby, but it is effective.
As the television cameras invaded England's huddle at the end of the match, Hartley could be heard informing his team-mates, with a few expletives for added measure, that if they beat the All Blacks next week, they will go second in the world. Winning four tries to nil against a team from the Rugby Championship is not something to be sniffed at. The first-half was as well as England have played since they beat the Kiwis last December.
But as Hartley and the rest of his team-mates will know, play like they did in the second-half against the All Blacks next Saturday, and there will be an abrupt end to their run of six games won on the trot at Twickenham.
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.