Emiliano Boffelli leads Argentina past error-strewn England at Twickenham

This was a sobering reminder of how much ground England have to make up on the leading World Cup contenders, less than 12 months before the tournament begins. A first defeat by Argentina in 13 years, a first at Twickenham since 2006 and a performance with enough mistakes to cause considerable concern with more formidable Tests awaiting this month. Eddie Jones has insisted England will be keeping things up their sleeve between now and next year’s World Cup but the old gag about where Napoleon keeps his armies springs to mind, so little firepower did England showcase.

Instead, Argentina struck with two fine second-half tries through Emiliano Boffelli and Santiago Carreras and weathered the briefest of England comebacks to clinch victory. Boffelli was superb throughout, finishing with 25 points, such was his accuracy from the tee.

It was their ability to edge back in front whenever England retook the lead that will please Michael Cheika the most – and infuriate his old mate Jones. Indeed, it is a first win for Cheika over Jones in eight attempts, perhaps he should spend half the week coaching rugby league more often.

This defeat was England’s fourth from their last six matches, the resilience shown in the second two Tests against Australia now forgotten and there will be question marks over Owen Farrell’s captaincy such was his side’s inability to close the match out. Ultimately, it is the torpor from which England so often struggled to emerge that concerns the most.

“Dull,” was Jones’s reflection on a stop-start contest but not so long ago it was a strength of England’s that they would win these ugly encounters. There was little direction in attack, save for a few robust charges from Joe Cokanasiga, and an underwhelming debut for a midfield combination of Marcus Smith, Farrell and Manu Tuilagi.

Throw in poor discipline and an inability to hold on to a lead they wrestled back, thanks in the main to a fine solo try from the replacement Jack van Poortvliet, and it could be a long November ahead with New Zealand and South Africa also due at Twickenham. Argentina, lest we forget, are England’s first opponents at next year’s World Cup. There is time to put things right, and Jones spoke of individual mistakes rather than structural faults, but suddenly the dark clouds that loomed over this team in March after another dreadful Six Nations campaign, are returning.
Throw in poor discipline and an inability to hold on to a lead they wrestled back, thanks in the main to a fine solo try from the replacement Jack van Poortvliet, and it could be a long November ahead with New Zealand and South Africa also due at Twickenham. Argentina, lest we forget, are England’s first opponents at next year’s World Cup. There is time to put things right, and Jones spoke of individual mistakes rather than structural faults, but suddenly the dark clouds that loomed over this team in March after another dreadful Six Nations campaign, are returning.

England have developed a habit of starting campaigns slowly. Jones blames the fact that he is selecting from so many different clubs that every time they come together, international habits must be learned again. Add in the biblical weather in south-west London and Twickenham was hardly abuzz with anticipation in the minutes before kick-off.

In the opening stages kicking from deep was the order of the day. On the first four occasions Smith touched the ball he kicked it. On the fifth, he passed to Farrell, who put his foot through it anyway. When England did manage to get on the front foot, their handling – Billy Vunipola the most obvious culprit – let them down and it was Argentina who took the lead with the first of Boffelli’s six penalties.

Farrell and Boffelli then exchanged quickfire penalties but come the quarter mark, England did begin to show glimpses of an intent to put the ball through hands. Cokanasiga, in particular, looked busy and it was he who scored the opening try on 25 minutes. Ben Youngs’s clever kick led to a scrum and from there Cokanasiga took a short ball and thundered over.

It was a 12th try in 13 Test appearances for Cokanasiga, all but two of which have come at Twickenham. He has played so little for Bath over the last few years that you wonder why Jones perseveres with him at times, but then you see him in this mood and the penny drops.

England could not shake their habit of letting Argentina back in just after scoring, however, and a third Boffelli penalty kept the home side’s lead to just a point. A powerful England shove on Argentina’s put-in gave Farrell the chance to push the lead out to four at the break – about as much as they deserved but with little room for comfort.

England were out of their comfort zone entirely when Boffelli finished off a peach of a try in the left-hand corner to seize back the lead. It came from a lineout on the right and Matías Moroni’s pull-back pass to Santiago Carreras had England reeling before Boffelli showed the pace to finish in the corner.

After Santiago Carreras’ breakaway try with just under half an hour to go, England had slipped into the danger zone that Jones had warned of beforehand, eight points down against a Pumas side with their tails up.

Van Poortvliet had been on the pitch – for his home England debut – merely seconds but he darted towards the line and had the speed to get there. Farrell kicked England back ahead and the home side looked likely victors at that stage but Boffelli responded to turn the heat back on Jones’s side.

Farrell again restored England’s lead before Boffelli had the final say after the home side gave up a penalty within his range once more. To make a mistake once is forgivable, to do so twice leaves Jones with much to ponder.