England begin the next stage of their journey towards Rugby World Cup 2019 with a home game they should win against Argentina on Saturday.
Few expect a struggling Pumas side to cause an upset at Twickenham this weekend with some bookmakers even having them as 11/1 underdog.
Why are they such outsiders? Well, a terrible year on the international circuit has seen them lose 11 out of 12 games, their only victory coming against Georgia in June. Indeed they’re a long way off the slick Argentina team that impressed so much during Rugby World Cup 2015.
Daniel Hourcade is subsequently under pressure ahead of these end-of-year games and unfortunately faces an England side oozing confidence.
Hourcade has gone for a different playmaker to the usual Nicolas Sanchez as Juan Martin Hernandez gets the nod while up front he hopes his decisions pay off against the English: “We’ve chosen the team around the strategy we have opted for to face our opponent,” said the coach.
Eddie Jones has already mentioned – in another prickly press conference with the media – that the game starts with the front-rows and once again he stands by captain Dylan Hartley and looks to the impact Jamie George will bring off the replacements bench in the second period. There is however an opportunity for Sam Underhill in the back-row while Henry Slade will want to impress and nail down a midfield jersey.
England’s toughest fixture will come next week against Australia, of that there’s little doubt, but making a statement on Saturday against Argentina will be at the forefront of their mind. Players like George Ford and Nathan Hughes are in top form, as is substitute Ellis Genge.
Jones though is not letting minds drift to the Wallabies and despite los Pumas’ troubles in 2017, he expects a full-on battle this weekend.
“Argentina are a dangerous team, they reached the 2015 Rugby World Cup semi-final and the majority of the side is still together,” he said.
“They have been through some times and whenever teams are in tough times they tend to rebound very aggressively and full of determination.”
There is no hiding from the fact though that Argentina are missing their overseas-based players such as Juan Figallo, Facundo Isa, Marcelo Bosch and Juan Imhoff. On paper, they just do not look like a side about to end their drought, seeming more likely of a hiding than a narrow win.
England will hope to inflict the former as, with their tails up and a strong 23 named, expect them to show little rust in their November opener.
Players to watch:
For England: What a chance for Henry Slade to put down a marker in the midfield. Yes, he’s highly unlikely to displace Owen Farrell in the 12 jersey long term but he’s shown with Exeter he’s a solid 13 so a strong performance could leave Jones with a headache for the Wallabies. We’re also looking forward to seeing the ever-improving partnership between Ben Youngs and George Ford, who are in good form for Leicester.
For Argentina: In the heat of battle Tomas Lavanini has been guilty of overstepping the mark in terms of discipline and must keep a lid on his game if the Pumas are to stand a chance. Go down to 14 men for any period of time and Argentina will find life tough at Twickenham. If he can, however, form a strong spine with Matias Alemanno in Agustin Creevy’s pack, the visitors will give their backs a chance of points.
Head-to-head: Somehow Elliot Daly has got himself fit to run out this weekend and will go up against Ramiro Moyano, who has been in solid form for the Jaguares this season in Super Rugby. He finished the campaign with five tries in 10 outings which is a decent rate and along with Emiliano Boffelli will be Argentina’s main scoring threat. Daly though offers so much more than tries, with his goal-kicking, tactical kicks and intelligence with ball in hand making him a real weapon in England’s arsenal. He’ll be keen to build on his Lions tour form.
2017: England won 35-25 in Santa Fe
2017: England won 38-34 in San Juan
2016: England won 27-14 at Twickenham
2013: England won 31-12 at Twickenham
2013: England won 51-26 in Buenos Aires
2013: England won 32-2 in Salta
2011: England won 13-9 in Dunedin (RWC)
2009: England won 16-9 at Twickenham
Prediction: The hosts will have too much gas in the tank for Argentina to even come close of an upset in our eyes. England by 20 points.
England: 15 Mike Brown, 14 Anthony Watson, 13 Jonathan Joseph, 12 Henry Slade, 11 Elliot Daly, 10 George Ford, 9 Ben Youngs, 8 Nathan Hughes, 7 Sam Underhill, 6 Chris Robshaw, 5 George Kruis, 4 Courtney Lawes, 3 Dan Cole, 2 Dylan Hartley (c), 1 Mako Vunipola
Replacements: 16 Jamie George, 17 Ellis Genge, 18 Harry Williams, 19 Joe Launchbury, 20 Sam Simmonds, 21 Danny Care, 22 Alex Lozowski, 23 Semesa Rokoduguni
Argentina: 15 Joaquin Tuculet, 14 Ramiro Moyano, 13 Matias Moroni, 12 Santiago Gonzalez Iglesias, 11 Emiliano Boffelli, 10 Juan Martin Hernandez, 9 Martin Landajo, 8 Tomas Lezana, 7 Marcos Kremer, 6 Pablo Matera, 5 Tomas Lavanini, 4 Matias Alemanno, 3 Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro, 2 Agustin Creevy (c), 1 Santiago Garcia Botta
Replacements: 16 Julian Montoya, 17 Lucas Noguera, 18 Enrique Pieretto, 19 Benjamin Macome, 20 Leonardo Senatore, 21 Gonzalo Bertranou, 22 Nicolas Sanchez, 23 Sebastian Cancellere
Date: Saturday, November 11
Kick-off: 15:00 GMT
Referee: Marius van der Westhuizen (South Africa)
Assistant referees: Nigel Owens (Wales), Dan Jones (Wales)
TMO: Olly Hodges (Ireland)