Revitalised England revel in another Marseille moment as Ford hits top gear
Flyhalf George Ford scored all his team’s points as 14-man England beat Argentina 27-10 in Marseille in their Pool D opener at Rugby World Cup 2023.
In Marseille 16 years ago, England delivered one of the most astounding turnarounds in their history to put them back on course for the World Cup final, and Saturday’s extraordinary 27-10 win over Argentina in the same stadium had a similar feel.
In 2007 the then world champions had been humiliated 36-0 by South Africa in the pool stage and were being hammered from every quarter but bounced back to shock Australia in the quarterfinals, before going on to narrowly lose to the Springboks in the final.
The current team arrived in France having lost six of their last nine games, leaking three tries a match and looking utterly bereft of ideas in attack.
When they had Tom Curry sent off after three minutes on Saturday, their long-suffering fans must have feared the worst against an Argentina team who triumphed at Twickenham a year ago and were full of confidence.
Perhaps it was the fact that they are getting all too used to playing with 14 men, this being their fourth red card in the last six games, but England not only took the setback in their stride but were also energised to a level of intensity perhaps not seen since their semifinal victory over New Zealand four years ago.
Flyhalf George Ford, starting in the place of the suspended Owen Farrell, scored all the points, including a record-equalling three drop goals in a 10-minute first-half blitz that seemed to sap Argentina’s spirit.
England were unrecognisable from the team who had lost six of their nine games under coach Steve Borthwick, finally showing pace in attack, fierce determination in defence and great discipline in stark contrast to their ragged rivals.
“The drop goals are always planned, it is a great weapon for us,” Ford said. “The boys up front were incredible to get us into that field position. We have had a bit of a rocky build-up to this World Cu,p but I think in the last 10 days there has been a different feeling to the place.”
Ford rightly took the headlines with a faultless kicking display, landing six penalties and three drop goals that had the fans in a frenzy, but all around him players who have been struggling for form for aeons, suddenly reminded everyone how good they could be.
Centre Manu Tuilagi, lock Maro Itoje, emergency number Eight Ben Earl and captain Courtney Lawes were all immense as they battered the Pumas again and again, barely allowing them across the halfway line and earning Ford repeated opportunities to keep the scoreboard turning, which he expertly took.
Prop Dan Cole, whose last World Cup experience was to be on the wrong end of South Africa’s demolition job in the 2019 final, also silenced the many doubters with a brilliant display against the fabled Puma scrum and left the field to a massive ovation from the England fans.
“Obviously a really good performance,” said Lawes, captaining the team in the absence of the suspended Owen Farrell, who faces a considerable challenge to regain his place.
“You saw today how much it meant to us. We’ve not been performing, we know that, but today defensively was unbelievable.
“I think you could tell the intensity we came out with, we wanted to shock Argentina, we knew we could and that just continued throughout the game. We were just prepared for everything.
“[The red card] was pretty much worst-case scenario and we were ready for it and we dug in.
“The front three were unbelievable. They really were the cornerstone of our game today, won loads of penalties and with penalties come territory and come points – that basically won us the game.”
Coach Steve Borthwick had been quietly promising that his players would deliver once they got to France and was delighted that his experienced men stepped up to the challenge.
“Tonight, was another example of the great leadership within the team,” he said. “I see a group that is packed full of senior pros who are fantastic leaders.
“Our effort, our intent, especially in defence, and the set piece that enabled us to really put some points on the board. George was magnificent. We can talk about his kicking, scoring the points, but he showed great composure and management throughout.”
Cheika wants to move on
Argentina lacked rhythm and failed to take control of the game despite having a man advantage, but can learn lessons from their 27-10 loss to 14-man England, coach Michael Cheika said.
Argentina had a man advantage for most of the game after a red card for England flanker Tom Curry, but never looked in control as flyhalf George Ford kicked 27 points to guide his side to victory.
“Pretty much everything that could go wrong did go wrong,” Cheika told reporters. “England managed the game very well, it was stop-start, which was how they wanted it. Ford played the cards nicely in this scenario.
“The pitch here is also smaller, only 95 metres so you can take a shot from further out.
“Full credit to them, they did not let us get flow into our game. Ford was excellent, not just his kicks at poles but also in general play.”
Argentina face Samoa on Friday in what is now a must-win contest in Pool D.
“The world is not over,” Cheika said. “We still have work to do to qualify. Our players will take a lot from this experience. We have many first-timers in World Cup games and they will take a lesson of how we need to be ready when the whistle blows.”
Argentina captain Julián Montoya admitted his side were below par.
“The attitude of the team to go until the last minute and score a try is important,” he said. “We need to figure out why we didn’t do that for the 80 minutes. We are not at the standard we want to be at.
“It’s a bad thing to happen but it’s better that it happened in the first game. We can learn from it.” Reuters/DM