After a busy day of matches yesterday, there was just one Autumn Nations Series match on Sunday: England’s campaign opener against Argentina. With “wet” probably not doing the conditions at Twickenham justice, both teams were going to the boot early on, finally resulting in an English penalty on 5 minutes as Santiago Carreras was pinged for obstructing a chaser by changing his line. This allowed England to kick possession into the Pumas 22 for the first time, put it came to nothing as Marcus Smith’s attempted cross-kick to Freddie Steward instead floated into the grateful hands of— Mateo Carreras. And the wing was soon beating England to another kick, this one a long ball into the English 22 following a turnover from Juan Martín González, and when Alex Coles tackled Tomás Lavanini off the ball, Emiliano Boffelli was more than willing to kick the penalty to open the scoring. Owen Farrell soon evened the scores after the Pumas defence were wrongly called offside as Ben Youngs struggles to control the ball out of a ruck. However a dropped restart from Coles and and an English offside off the scrum allowed Boffelli to immediately put the Pumas back ahead. Argentina were causing England issues in the scrum, but Andrew Brace decided otherwise and gave England a penalty, but the Pumas defence dealt well with the resulting 5m lineout driving maul. However England’s next 5m scrum after Santi Carreras was forced to cover a kick into his own in-goal—was much more successful as they sent Joe Cokanasiga on the crash ball for the opening try. Boffelli cut the lead with a penalty just after the half hour mark following a wonderful jackal from Julián Montoya, but a late hit from the Pumas captain just minutes later allowed Farrell to kick a penalty of his own. Another England error from the restart gifted Boffelli another simple 3 points, but there was just time for Farrell to kick another of his own after the ball squirted out awkwardly from a scrum, leaving Gonzalo Bertranou under pressure, and the teams went in at the break with the score 16-12.
After another tight start to the second half, a scrum penalty allowed the Pumas to kick up to the English 22, and while England expected the catch and drive, the ball was spread immediately to the backs, and the looping Santiago Carreras put Boffelli over in the corner for the lead. A timely tackle from Mateo Carreras was all that saved the Pumas just moments later as Cokanasiga broke and fed Marcus Smith, and as England looked to create the next attack, Owen Farrell’s pass went behind Billy Vunipola and Santiago carreras was the first to react, picking it up and just holding off the chase of Freddie Steward as he went over for Argentina’s second try in just a matter of minutes. England introduced Jack van Poortvliet following this, and with almost his first touch of the ball, the replacement halfback sniped through a gap at the side of a ruck to go over for a try. After Brace decided that that a high tackle from Jack Nowell on Santiago Carreras was worthy of an England scrum, a strong drive from the home pack won them a penalty that they kicked into the 22, and when Ivan Nemer stupidly played the 9, Farrell kicked England back into a 2-point lead on the hour. Boffelli and Farrell traded penalties over the next handful of minutes, and another Boffelli penalty took the score to 29-30 with 10 minutes remaining. A break from Alex Coles put England on the front foot, but as the phases went on in the 22, he then undid his good work by getting caught running a blocking line, allowing the Pumas to clear their lines and hold on for a first victory over England since 2009.
England have added an extra dimension to their game, and it’s about damn time! Ellis Genge and Kyle Sinckler have always been great carriers of the ball, but they have been underused as carriers in recent years.
However as of this season, that pair are now playing and training together every week at Bristol, where Pat Lam has utilised not just their carrying, but also their reliable handling skills, having them frequently attack the line together and look to tip the ball on to the other as the defender commits. Now Eddie Jones has also added this to the England playbook.
It’s something so simple, but it makes a great impact, as 2 such big carriers will force so many defenders to commit, and if they breach the defensive line, they have the strength to keep their feet long enough for support to get there, and the handling skills to offload if it is on so that the team can take full advantage of the half-break. And in the close matches, these extra carrying options could prove vital.
Learning and growing
Last time that Argentina played in slippery conditions, they got their tactics wrong, trying to play too much rugby in conditions that didn’t support that style. Today, however, they prioritised the territorial game, relying on the big boots of players like Santiago Carreras to push England deep and then the defence to deal with an England attack that would be blunted by the conditions, allowing them to get after the breakdown and win a number of penalties, which Boffelli—whose reliability with the boot has increased exponentially as he has become the regular kicker—would happily kick all day long. And as the conditions improved slightly, they knew when to take the risks, with a lovely move off a lineout to set up Boffelli the highlight of the game, while Carreras’ handling skills to pick up a greasy ball on the run for his try were incredible.
Are they the finished article? Not yet, as they still give away some stupid penalties, while I still feel that Carreras is held back at fly half and benefits from being able to attack the space from 15, while their scrum needs to become more reliable. But they now have wins over Australia, New Zealand and now England in 2022, and that kind of belief for a team that was until recently in an absolute shambles is a great achievement and will encourage them to just continue growing over the next year with a view to repeating this result in the pool stages of the World Cup.