Player ratings: England
England player ratings from Liam Heagney live in Marseille: This was the moment of truth, the night when it all supposed to become all right in the England tenure of Steve Borthwick and it miraculously did just that despite a red card for Tom Curry.
That massive third-minute setback had the critics preparing introductory paragraphs about England having a serious discipline problem as this was their third red card in four games.
However, that early banishment for Curry instead remarkably became the galvanizing tonic that England needed to suddenly rid them of their desperate run of form and results.
Inspiringly led by skipper Courtney Lawes, they courageously went on to boss the breakdown and with George Ford immaculate with the boot in landing a hatful of penalties (six in total) to go with his dramatic 10-minute first-half drop goal hat-trick, they enjoyed a comfortable 27-10 victory that now has them clear favourites to march on and secure top spot in Pool D, continuing with next weekend clash versus Japan in Nice.
The only blemish was giving up a late, late consolation try after a fantastic defensive performance that will do the troubled Kevin Sinfield structure the power of good and it left English fans in the 63,118 attendance thrilled with what they had seen despite the oppressive Saturday night humidity and the lack of a single try by their team. Here are the England player ratings:
15. Freddie Steward
Came into the tournament out of sorts, but rose to the occasion despite the tricky circumstances. Show no fear under the high ball and recent defensive issues were a thing of the past. A sound restorative performance.
14. Jonny May
One of two players in the starting XV who didn’t make the original 33, he had a quiet opening half where his one moment to shine was damaged by some lax passing that ate up the edge which looked to be available at 9-3 if the ball arrived to him quicker. Can take pride, though, in how he tempted Matteo Carreras to rashly kick the ball dead rather than run at him when the chance was on from the Argentina 22.
13. Joe Marchant
One of the rare England players to have shown some encouraging form in August, he continued that with some decent first-half carries. Continue to do his bit with precision after the break.
12. Manu Tuilagi
Was a top-notch energy giver in the way he cajoled his teammates all the way through his 69 minutes before giving way for Ollie Lawrence on 69 minutes. Tackled hard to ensure the Sinfield defence didn’t leak as it had been.
11. Elliot Daly
A doubt for the finals with an August 19 knee injury in Dublin, he pitched up fit. The pitch was this wasn’t a night for wingers, so narrow were Argentina in attack and so limited were England when they were on the move. Missed a couple of penalties but this wasn’t costly.
10. George Ford
Channeled his inner Jonny Wilkinson to produce an extravagant 10-minute drop-goal hat-trick that took England 12-3 clear at the break. He had set the tone with the penalty after getting hit late by Santiago Carreras and showed great cup-tie intelligence. Even simple things like taking a mark just before the break even though he had acres of space to play in. In the end, he scored all 27 of England’s points, exciting to a standing ovation on 75 minutes after landing his final kick for 27-3.
9. Alex Mitchell
Started tidily in just his second start for England, he thrived in 14-man England suddenly having to be more energetic, high tempo and a bit less predictable on the ball after a pedestrian August. Curry’s third-minute loss was Mitchell’s gain as aside from slick passing and some box kicking, there were a couple of first-half runs and even an offload. His threat was encapsulated early after the break when he raced down the blindside after grasping an awkward bounce off a Courtney Lawes lineout out tap. Played his part sublimely for 59 minutes to help England lead 21-3 and leave you scratching your head as to why Borthwick axed him from the training squad of 4o-something named on June 30.
8. Ben Earl
He will never be a traditional ball-carrying No8, but England didn’t need one on the night as his tackling was crucial in frustrating Argentina the whole way through. Will kick himself, though, for the first-half moment when he kicked away possession and wasted a try chance by not passing to his right.
7. Tom Curry
Was hailed in the build-up as the potential missing link for the England defence as he arrived in France without playing a single minute of the four-game Summer Nations Series. That idea quickly went out the window, though. The clock was stopped on just 2:59 when referee Raynal decided to yellow card the openside for his head-to-head contact with Mallia. Off he went having made just that single tackle and it was seven minutes later, just after Ford had levelled at three-all when the foul player review officer confirmed the card should be upgraded to red, the first ever such sanction for an England player at a World Cup.
6. Courtney Lawes
It could have all gone south for England with their ropey red card start but Lawes was kryptonite to Argentina when leading by example in the game-deciding opening stanza. His two turnover penalty wins, especially the one that had Julian Montoya penalised with Argentina attacking off a tapped penalty near the line, were massive momentum swings and his enthusiasm when double-tackling with Tuilagi was another uplifting moment. Continued to boss things in the second half, he was cheered off on 66 minutes with England 21-3 up and Ford having the ball in the kicking tee to make it 24. Brilliant, simply brilliant.
5. Ollie Chessum
Another who bowed out on 59 with England deservedly 21-3 clear. His enthusiasm since his long-term injury return was one of the few August silver linings and while getting on the ball remained something for other players to do in Marseille, his grunt work rate was impressive. There was one missed lineout catch at 6-3, but he was excellent at clearing rucks and being a bloody nuisance with Argentina’s confidence draining away.
4. Maro Itoje
Just like Cole, the lock enjoyed a very redemptive evening after a string of laboured and muddled performances. A highlight was his turnover penalty that was won to see England move 18-3 up and ensure the second half would be a repeat of his team’s first-half joy. Finished as England’s top tackler. Welcome back, Maro!
3. Dan Cole
Publicly denied he had a point to prove, getting back to this World Cup stage four years after his nightmare in the final versus the Springboks. But he was very much a veteran prop on a huge reputation-restoring mission and he exited on 50 minutes to a rousing reception from the England fans thrilled that they had seen him play an excellent role in securing a 15-3 lead. Just minutes before came his crowning moment, winning a scrum penalty to huge cheers from team and fans alike. Very well played.
2. Jamie George
Having enjoyed a high first-half tackle count, he trooped off at the break having been the England player to have gotten closest to the Argentina line with one spinning surge. He went on to lap up the second half knowing momentum at the breakdown was all England. Played for 72 minutes, exiting just seconds after the fans in the stands just behind the level seven media area had been chanting “Super Kevin Sinfield”.
1. Ellis Genge
Warned people who had written England off that there would be a response and fair play, he was proven to be fully correct. His own contribution wasn’t at the top of his game but he tackled often and made his marginal but important few metres in traffic before exiting on 54 minutes with England 18-3 clear.
By Liam Heagney @RugbyPass