Match Preview: England vs Argentina No. 1

Maradona heads one in against Angleterre in a typically unemotional sporting encounter between the two countries

England don’t have many options but to pick a huge pack, and they haven’t veered very far from the form book.

There’s no doubt an argument to be had over position titles in rugby, especially in the modern game: does wearing No7 automatically make you an openside flanker? Are you expected to operate in a traditional ‘openside’ manner or to fulfil openside duties such as pressuring the opposition outhalf, scrapping for the ball on the ground, and providing a support link for breaking runners, a la Laurent Cabannes, Martyn Williams and other greats of the position? Or does it merely denominate where you line up at scrum-time, i.e. on the openside of the scrum, and then you just rumble round the park, playing like you’d play with any other number on your back?

The reason it springs to mind is because James Haskell is not an openside. He’ll be wearing No7 tomorrow, though. It’s an enforced change because of captain Groovy Moody’s absence through injury, but it goes a long way to telling the story about how England are going to play against Argentina, and indeed about how Johnson wants them to play, fullstop.

They are going to bash it up repeatedly against Argentina, then bash it up some more. Bash, bash bash. Bash.

The Argentine pack of 2007 would have been able to withstand that, and the Argentine midfield of that tournament would have been able to spy the gaps and then exploit them. However, neither element of the current team is as good as that of four years ago. There’s no Pichot or Hernandez in the halfbacks, and the great Roncero/Ledesma/Scelzo front row is elderly and indeed has been broken up by coach Santiago Phelan; the 35-year old Scelzo starts on the bench, replaced by Montpellier’s Juan Figallo at tighthead.

Pat Albacete [30] and Manuel Carizza [27] are a good unit at second row, big and powerful and well-schooled in the Top 14. They lose nothing in size to Lawes and Deacon, the English pair. Lobbe is an absolutely cracking backrower, and will be the second most important Argentine player on the pitch, after the mercurial Felipe Contepomi. If Lobbe can get on the front foot and not have to spend all day fire-fighting, Argentina are in with a big shout of winning this. If he’s skidding from one side of the pitch to the other, making covering tackles and getting pinged, you’ll know that it’s a losing effort.

Leguizamon needs both to have a big, all-energy game and to keep his cool; I’m not sure if he can handle both at the same time. Easter and Haskell will be in his face all day chirping, and he’s a very tetchy, short-tempered customer. The opponent he needs to concentrate on is le Jonny, not Brand Halfwit.

Wilkinson isn’t a great distributor, but we saw against Ireland that the Tindell/Tuilagi midfield is capable of a bit of verve, a bit of subtlety and a bit of pace on its own … and obviously a shedload of bashing. BASH! Cueto being out paves the way for the dangerous but dastardly Delon Armitage to come in on the wing. There’s a guy who’s in good form at the moment but isn’t a particularly likeable chappie. Still, they’re not in NZ to win friends, they’re there to win matches. Lippie Ashton will be motoring around trying to get on the shoulder of a breaking runner, but I think it’s going to be a tough game for him to find the gaps. Wilko will keep the scoreboard ticking over from placekicks and the occasional drop, and we’ll have a match very like the dour versions of  ‘le Crunch’ in the Six Nations.

This is going to be a collision fest, but I see England’s greater depth on the bench and better age profile taking it away from Argentina after the hour mark. Loads of frustration from Leguizamon and Felipe and a late yellow card will seal the deal for Tins and the boys.

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