While some have criticised England’s defeat of an uninspiring Australian outfit, the all important win should be the main topic of conversation. Knocking over a southern hemisphere side is never an easy feat so the team will take confidence from the victory, even though elements of the performance didn’t quite click.
It wasn’t pretty but it was never going to be – several key players didn’t tour over the summer, missing either through touring with the Lions (Parling, Youngs x2, Cole, etc) or being rested (Ashton, Robshaw, Flood, etc), so the full team hadn’t played together since March.
Consequently the summer’s second string side did well to comprehensively thump Argentina in two Tests, albeit against an also depleted Pumas side.
England’s front row aside, the team remains largely the same. David Wilson gets his seventh start out of 30caps, alongside Joe Marler and David Hartley, in a weighty, new-look front row that has been brought into (hopefully) nullify the typically ferocious scrummaging threat that the Argentineans pose. England dismantled the Australian scrum last week and Will Genia had a shocker as a result of not having a platform to play off, but the Pumas’ set piece will be far more solid with the likes of Marcos Ayerza and Maximiliano Bustos in their ranks. Hartley’s inclusion should also help steady a slightly wobbly line-out, as will the introduction of Geoff Parling from the bench.
Back row – more of the same please! The Robshaw-Wood combination worked hard to nullify Michael Hooper at the breakdown and Billy Vunipola was a wrecking ball with ball in hand.
As for the backs, Chris Ashton should count himself very lucky to be in the side. Rumours had been rife that Ashton’s flat performance against Australia, including a woeful defensive display against Israel Folau, would see him relegated to the bench and the pace of Marlande Yarde and Christian Wade unleashed. But neither are available and Ben Foden deservedly gets to start, even though it’s not in his preferred position at fullback, as Mike Brown is still the in-form 15.
The Pumas face two major challenges.
Firstly they’ve had only two weeks to prepare for this autumn series under new coach Daniel Hourcade, as former coach Santiago Phelan stepped down in October after a win eluded the side in the Rugby Championship. They will keep it simple, relying on the pack to win solid set-piece ball and ball-carriers such as the abrasive Patricio Albacete to trundle the ball forward and give the backs a platform to play off.
Secondly they’re missing captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe. It may seem like a big statement to claim that the loss of one man will make such a difference but this will hurt them. He is a talismanic leader, among the best, most tireless and unrelenting workhorses in world rugby. Stand-in captain Juan Manuel Leguizamon has some big shoes to fill.
In the spotlight
Billy Twelvetrees. Stuart Lancaster has rightly kept the faith but Twelvetrees will have to improve on last week’s self-admittedly “rubbish” performance which saw him flat in terms of creativity and flattened by opposite man Matt Toomua in defence. On his game 36 is a hugely skilful player, who provides another playmaker option, with good vision for a gap and great distribution but he needs to put in a more assured performance to cement his place.
The Argentinean pack will prove a sterner test for England but, provided England can manage this, Argentina should cause few problems elsewhere, their backline lacking the attacking flair to really challenge Andy Farrell’s defensive nous. England were rusty against Australia but another week together to sharpen Lee Dickson’s distribution, Twelvetrees’ and Tomkins’ partnership in the centre channels and with Mike Brown continuing to offer an excellent counter attacking option, we should be able to pick up a comfortable win.
England by 12
And here’s David Flatman’s verdict:
David Flatman was speaking exclusively to QBErugby.com. For more great rugby videos and interviews, go to: www.qberugby.com.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Chris Ashton, 13 Joel Tomkins, 12 Billy Twelvetrees, 11 Ben Foden, 10 Owen Farrell, 9 Lee Dickson, 8 Billy Vunipola, 7 Chris Robshaw (capt), 6 Tom Wood, 5 Courtney Lawes, 4 Joe Launchbury, 3 David Wilson, 2 Tom Youngs, 1 Joe Marler.
Replacements: 16 Dylan Hartley, 17 Alex Corbisiero, 18 Dan Cole, 19 Geoff Parling, 20 Ben Morgan, 21 Ben Youngs, 22 Toby Flood, 23 Alex Goode.
Argentina: 15 Lucas González Amorosino, 14 Horacio Agulla, 13 Marcelo Bosch, 12 Santiago Fernández, 11 Juan Imhoff, 10 Nicolas Sanchez, 9 Tomas Cubelli, 8 Juan Manuel Leguizamon (capt), 7 Pablo Matera, 6 Julio Farias Cabello, 5 Mariano Galarza, 4 Patricio Albacete, 3 Maximiliano Bustos, 2 Eusebio Guinazu, 1 Marcos Ayerza.
Replacements: 16 Santiago Iglesias Valdez, 17 Nahuel Lobo, 18 Juan Pablo Orlandi, 19 Manuel Carizza, 20 Benjamín Macome, 21 Martin Landajo, 22 Gonzalo Tiesi, 23 Santiago Cordero.