By providing the Rugby World Cup with undoubtedly the worst finalists in the tournament’s history in 2007, England proved that they know more than a thing or two about thriving in cup match rugby. A big scrum and an incredibly reliable place-kicker maintaining both physical and scoreboard pressure can get you an awful long way.
In 2007, Argentina on the other hand seemed to revolutionize international rugby by dint of a tactic that seemed cavemanesque when the Elwood-era Irish team used it in place of the ability to score actual tries in the 5 Nations tournament: The Garryowen. Never the less, this combination of excellent field kicking, demented chasing, along with their traditionally strong scrummaging unit and the brazen leadership of Juan Martin Hernandez brought Argentina to third place via two victories over hosts France.
Put simply, both play a pretty grinding, power-orientated style of rugby, but Argies cry when their anthem comes on and are the underdogs in world rugby’s geopolitical stuggles, so are ultimately a great deal more likeable.
In the intervening four years, its fair to say that not a great deal has changed about the way these nations traditionally play their rugby. England have tried and failed to convince everyone again that they can be an exciting side, with only their incorrigible godhead Johnno seemingly delighted about that fact. Meanwhile, the Argentine side relies on many of the same faces who stunned at RWC2007, especially in the tight five. And more worryingly, crucial half-backs Hernandez and Pichot will no longer give the team that extra element of guile and class in big match situations. Instead that responsibility will lie with notorious hot-head Dr. Felipe Contepomi.
Group B in general couldn’t really be a more stolid looking affair with muich of the actions probably remaining try-shy. The first game unusually pits the two bigger guns against one another, leaving the defeated party to beat Scotland (and feasibly, avoid a sticky match with the Georgians). Not only that, the runner-up in this group will most likely face a New Zealand side desperate not blunder again at quarter-final stage, so this first group game has huge implications.
In their most recent warm up outings the Argentines looked sloppy and off-colour against an improving Welsh team, whereas the White Orcs finally shrugged the Dublin monkey off their backs by landing their first W in Ireland since before becoming World Champions in 2003. Aside from form, England look to have the more potent weapons both in terms of le Jonny’s reliability (in comparison with Dr. Phil’s) from the tee and the directness of Tuilagi, the follow-on lines that Ashton specializes in and the exciting counterattacking of Ben Foden. While it’s certainly hard to imagine swarthy back play being the main feature of this game, the Mole towers brainstrust considers England certainly to have the edge in terms of penetration away from the contact zone.
In the tight, England’s first choice pie-munchers made an important return to form in the summer and the heft that Andrew Sheridan and Steve Thompson give their scrum make it a hugely potent platform for generating pressure, possession and eventually points. Can the aging Argentine front-row live long enough with English forward aggression? The bookies have England as 13 point favourite, which seems a tad generous given that games in this group between the big three teams are unlikely to feature a lot of high scoring romps and also given the fact that Argentines, as pale an imitation of 2007 as they might be, will still be supercharged by their tears during el Himno. England will probably have too much for the Argies in the glass-roofed Otago Stadium.