PREVIEW: England v Argentina
WORLD CUP POOL MATCH: England can become the first team to secure a World Cup quarterfinal spot Saturday if they beat an Argentina side battling for survival in a match described as “war”.
Qualification with a game to go would bring a measure of redemption for Eddie Jones’s men after England’s 2015 humiliation of becoming the first host team to fail to make the quarterfinals.
Hooker Agustin Creevy said the match was “like a war, it’s like a final for us” as defeat would leave Los Pumas hoping France slip up against Tonga if they are to qualify from Pool C, the tournament’s ‘group of death’.
However, a win for Mario Ledesma’s men would blow open the group and set up a nail-biting final weekend, including a winner-takes-all “Le Crunch” between France and England in Yokohama.
“This is our World Cup Final. That’s how important it is for us,” Ledesma said.
Jones has 31 fit Englishmen to select from but is aware that the serious World Cup business starts now after bonus-point canters against the United States (45-7) and Tonga (35-3).
Argentina are “a completely different team from others we have played so far in the pool stages and are always about the physical contest”, Jones told reporters.
The Australian coach has picked his battering ram prop Mako Vunipola and wing Jack Nowell in the matchday 23, as both have recovered from long-term injuries.
While the two key players have yet to reach peak fitness, Jones backed them to make an impact off the bench at the Tokyo Stadium.
“They’re still a way off but they trained really well and showed they’re fit enough to make really significant contributions,” he said.
The England boss has stuck with the double playmaker strategy of George Ford at flyhalf alongside inside centre Owen Farrell, who predicted a “tough game” and said his team were prepared to “play any sort of rugby to win”.
‘Hang onto your seats’
Ledesma, who featured in a 9-13loss to England in the 2011 World Cup, made only one change to the side that beat Tonga, bringing in Javier Ortega Desio at No.8 in place of Tomas Lezana.
The other surprise sprung by Ledesma is omitting flyhalf Nicolas Sanchez, as he retained Benjamin Urdapilleta as starting pivot and preferred utility back Lucas Mensa on the bench.
The two teams have been involved in some fiery encounters – including a famous incident in 1990 when Pumas’ hooker Frederico Mendez floored England lock Paul Ackford with a punch – and the verbal jabs have flown in the run-up to the game.
Creevy dismissed English rugby as “boring” and Ledesma couldn’t resist a dig at his outspoken opposite number, saying: “They’ve come here to win the World Cup, Eddie’s been telling me that for the past four years.”
But Argentina have lost their last nine games against England and Ledesma admitted: “Having a game against England to qualify for the quarterfinals doesn’t get any bigger, we have a very big challenge ahead of us.”
Both teams will pinpoint the scrum as a key battle – traditionally an Argentinian speciality – but with Vunipola, and veteran prop Dan Coles poised to win his 93rd cap, Jones is confident of competing in this area.
“It’s going to be a massive test on Saturday, but they haven’t scrummed against us,” warned Jones.
“We believe our scrum can be a real weapon – so hang on to your seats!”
Players to watch:
For England: Owen Farrell is the brains in the England team and he will look to dictate play from No.12. Fullback Elliot Daly is an exciting runner with the ball and Argentina can’t afford to give him too much time. In the pack, Billy Vunipola will be looking to cause some headaches in the Argentinian team with his big frame, while Maro Itoje has all the skills and power of a modern-day lock.
For Argentina: Scrumhalf Tomas Cubelli needs to be at his best to ensure his dangerous backline gets some quality ball. Fullback Emiliano Boffelli can unlock any defence, while Matias Moroni is a deadly finisher. in the pack, Tomas Lavanini brings the aggression, but he needs to watch his discipline. Captain Pablo Matera will be looking to disrupt England’s play at the breakdowns.
Head to head: It should be a bruising encounter up front, which is an area where the Pumas have been lacking in recent seasons. There is plenty of muscle between the locks with George Kruis and Maro Itoje up against Tomas Lavanini and Guido Petti.
2017: England won 21-8, London
2017: England won 35-25, Sante Fe
2017: England won 38-34, San Juan
2016: England won 27-14, London
2013: England won 31-12, London
2013: England won 51-26, Buenos Aires
2013: England won 32-3, Salta
2011: England won 13-9, Dunedin (World Cup pool match)
2009: England won 16-9, London
2009: Argentina won 24-22, Salta
Prediction: Argentina are well aware that if they lose, they are out of this World Cup. England are the favourites, but Argentina will give them hell. England to take this one by five points or less.
England: 15 Elliot Daly, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Manu Tuilagi, 12 Owen Farrell (captain), 11 Jonny May, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Tom Curry, 5 George Kruis, 4 Maro Itoje, 3 Kyle Sinckler, 2 Jamie George, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Luke Cowan-Dickie, 17 Mako Vunipola, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Courtney Lawes, 20 Lewis Ludlam, 21 Willi Heinz, 22 Henry Slade, 23 Jack Nowell.
Argentina: 15 Emiliano Boffelli, 14 Matias Moroni, 13 Matias Orlando, 12 Jeronimo De La Fuente, 11 Santiago Carreras, 10 Benjamin Urdapilleta, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Javier Ortega Desio, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera (captain), 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Guido Petti, 3 Juan Figallo, 2 Julian Montoya, 1 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro.
Replacements: 16 Agustin Creevy, 17 Mayco Vivas, 18 Santiago Medrano, 19 Matias Alemanno, 20 Tomas Lezana, 21 Felipe Ezcurra, 22 Lucas Mensa, 23 Bautista Delguy.
Date: Saturday, October 5
Venue: Tokyo Stadium, Tokyo
Kick-off: 17.00 (05.00 Argentina time; 08.00 GMT; 09.00 England time)
Expected weather: It will be hot with a high of 31°C, cooling down to 22°C in the evening with a strong breeze.
Referee: Nigel Owens (Wales)
Assistant referees: Ben O’Keeffe (New Zealand), Andrew Brace (Ireland)
TMO: Marius Jonker (South Africa)
AFP & @rugby365com