Argentina pulled off an astonishing upset of England by 30-29 at Twickenham despite hardly any ball or territory and a battered scrum.
The game was scrappy and never flowed, undermined by a slippery ball and soggy field. Those conditions usually follow England’s controlled 10-man power game.
But the home side too often spoiled tough gains by conceding soft penalties, and the Pumas not only defended superbly but showed an edge in ambition to down England at Twickenham for the first time in 16 years.
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The lead changed four times in the last quarter alone, as Argentina’s Emiliano Boffelli, the world’s leading scorer in Tests this year with a century, and England’s Owen Farrell, the third highest scorer in test rugby history, traded goal kicks. Between them, they landed 14 of 15.
Boffelli, who had the one miss, made the last penalty kick for 30-29 with 10 minutes to go. He finished with 25 points, including Argentina’s brilliant first try.
The Pumas sign-posted more progress under new coach Michael Cheika. Since July, they have beaten the All Blacks in New Zealand for the first time, led the Rugby Championship for the first time, and won a long overdue home series against Scotland.
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They’d lost 10 straight Tests to England since 2009 but will take a psychological edge into their next meeting in September in Marseille on the opening weekend of the Rugby World Cup.
“It was a first (win) we needed to have before we meet them in the World Cup,” Cheika said.
“For our confidence. Argentina is still growing legs around getting a winning feeling and learning how to do that.”
Heavy rain stopped just before kickoff, and though the sun came out, it started raining penalties, instead. Boffelli and Farrell each nailed their four goal kicks in the half.
Midway through, England turned a penalty inside the Pumas 22 into an attacking lineout but was repelled.
The pressure was sustained when a Ben Youngs chip to the try line was well chased by flyhalf Marcus Smith.
From the five-metre scrum, wing Joe Cokanasiga ran off Youngs and his 112-kilogram bulk was too close to the try line not to score.
But England was wasteful with all the ball and turf it enjoyed and led only 16-12 at halftime.
“Structurally, we had control of the game but we kept on making fundamental mistakes and letting them in,” England coach Eddie Jones said.
“We were always in position to win, and I liked the way the team went about it. I didn’t like the individual silly mistakes.”
England’s new inside backs combination of Smith, Farrell and Manu Tuilagi was well contained and didn’t show much.
Cokanasiga was the busiest winger on the field by staying close to the pack. The ball was hardly strung along either backline until after halftime when Argentina produced classic moves to regain the lead.
Off quick lineout ball, flyhalf Santiago Carreras looped around center Matias Moroni and gave Boffelli an overlap to slide into the left corner.
England was stunned again moments later when Farrell unloaded a pass to nobody before he was crunched by prop Thomas Gallo. Carreras pounced on the ball and scorched in from 60 meters out. Boffelli’s extras made it 24-16.
Twickenham, largely muted, was roused to lift England. Youngs, the team’s most capped player but slowing behind the pack, was clapped off and replaced by Jack van Poortvliet. Within seconds, he scored when he burst off a ruck from outside the 22.
The gap was left by Marcos Kremer. The feisty Pumas flanker, who led the team’s incredible defense with 19 tackles, was messing with new England lock Alex Coles off the ball.
Farrell’s conversion and penalty put England in front for a second time. But England gave the lead away twice more, and for good.
“We need to make sure we don’t drop any confidence,” Farrell said.
Another Rugby World Cup dry run awaits when Japan visits Twickenham next Saturday.
Argentina is off to Wales.
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