England face do-or-die Pumas to reach RWC quarterfinals
TOKYO (AP) — Argentina doesn’t have a choice.
Beat England on Saturday, or it makes its earliest exit from a Rugby World Cup in 16 years.
This was always going to be a crunch match in Pool C: Three Tier One sides can’t fit into two quarterfinal slots.
The stakes deepened for the Pumas after losing to France 23-21 on the opening weekend. France still has to play England, too, but having already got past Argentina, the French may not need _ yet _ to beat England to advance.
“This is our World Cup final,” Pumas coach Mario Ledesma says. “That’s how important it is for us. It’s a really good opportunity to get into the history books of Argentine rugby.”
England can make history in Tokyo, too. A win qualifies it for the quarterfinals after embarrassingly missing out in 2015 in its home tournament.
This isn’t a World Cup final to England because Eddie Jones’ squad came to Japan to play in the real one. It has every reason to be confident on Saturday.
England has beaten up Argentina for the past decade, winning nine straight tests. The English won their only previous two World Cup matchups, although both had to be toughed out. England prevailed 24-18 in 1995 in Durban, and needed a Ben Youngs converted try in the 67th minute to win 13-9 in 2011 at Dunedin.
England's confidence is high after winning its opening two pool matches against Tonga and the United States, scoring 80 points and conceding 10. And it has had two extra days of preparation for its first Tier One opponent.
And for the first time in ages, coach Jones was excited to have a fully fit squad of 31 to choose from. He reverted to the lineup which dispatched Tonga with only one change: George Kruis was in the second row with Maro Itoje, and Courtney Lawes has dropped to the reserves.
The reserves also feature prop Mako Vunipola and winger Jack Nowell. Vunipola tore his hamstring from the bone in May, and tore the scar tissue after 17 minutes against Ireland in August. Nowell has been nursing an ankle ligament problem since June.
“It's a credit to our strength and conditioning staff and medical staff what a great condition we're in,” Jones enthused.
The Pumas are also in good shape. They made only one change to the starting lineup, recalling No. 8 Javier Ortega Desio, who played against France, for Tomas Lezana from the win over Tonga last Saturday.
Hooker Julian Montoya and flyhalf Benjamin Urdapilleta have been retained after replacing veterans Agustin Creevy and Nicolas Sanchez. Sanchez, who was in the reserves against Tonga, has missed out on the matchday 23. The inexperienced Lucas Mensa is the cover. Record caps holder Creevy is in the reserves, though.
“They're a pretty good team if they can get Creevy to come off the bench,” Jones says.
The England coach is usually quick with hyperbole, but has been paying tribute this week and left the banter to Creevy, who knows England and its game well from two seasons in the Premiership. Creevy reportedly said this pool game “is going to be like a war,” and described England as structured and boring, meaning he knows what's coming: “They are Anglo-Saxon: No risks, very tidy.”
Dealing with that isn't easy, he admits. They need to match England up front, be composed and not give away penalties because Owen Farrell is unerring. The breakdown will be big, captain Pablo Matera and Marcos Kremer against England tyros Sam Underhill and Tom Curry.
“England is a candidate for the title. Eddie Jones has been saying that for the last four years,” Ledesma says. “They have a lot of resources, a great team, but I’m confident it’s going to be really hard for them to beat us.”
England: Elliot Daly, Anthony Watson, Manu Tuilagi, Owen Farrell (captain), Jonny May, George Ford, Ben Youngs; Billy Vunipola, Sam Underhill, Tom Curry, George Kruis, Maro Itoje, Kyle Sinckler, Jamie George, Joe Marler. Reserves: Luke Cowan-Dickie, Mako Vunipola, Dan Cole, Courtney Lawes, , Lewis Ludlam, Willi Heinz, Henry Slade, Jack Nowell.
Argentina: Emiliano Boffelli, Matías Moroni, Matias Orlando, Jeronimo De La Fuente, Santiago Carreras, Benjamin Urdapilleta, Tomás Cubelli; Javier Ortega Desio, Marcos Kremer, Pablo Matera (captain), Tomas Lavanini, Guido Petti, Juan Figallo, Julian Montoya, Nahuel Tetaz Chaparro. Reserves: Agustin Creevy, Mayco Vivas, Santiago Medrano, Matias Alemanno, Tomas Lezana, Felipe Ezcurra, Lucas Mensa, Bautista Delguy.