By Mitch Phillips
TOKYO (Reuters) – England secured their place in the World Cup quarter-finals with a crushing 39-10 victory over Argentina on Saturday as the Pumas were forced to play for over an hour with 14 men after lock Tomas Lavanini was sent off for smashing his shoulder into Owen Farrell’s head.
England were 5-3 up at the time after a Jonny May try and though the Pumas battled valiantly for a while, they were eventually overwhelmed as Elliot Daly, Ben Youngs, George Ford, Jack Nowell and Luke Cowan-Dickie all scored, making most of the second half a cruise.
The victory earns England a quarter-final, probably against Australia or Wales, and they can secure top place in Pool C by beating France next weekend.
England coach Eddie Jones will be delighted with what was, other than the opening exchanges, a dominant display, and though the red card clearly swung the momentum hugely in their favour they showed a growing combination of power and pace that has made them real contenders to lift the trophy for the second time.
“We’re exactly where we wanted to be – 15 points after three games,” Jones said. “We just need to simplify our game a little bit. With them having one off, we were probably just trying to push a little bit too much and we’re a bit rusty after two easy games and a long break and that came out a bit. In the second half we got a bit better rhythm.”
Argentina need France to slip up twice to have any chance of going through. Saturday’s defeat was their 10th in a row against England and they have lost 29 of their last 34 games – a shocking decline for a team who were semi-finalists in two of the previous three tournaments.
They looked sharp enough early on at a rocking Tokyo Stadium having promised to play with fire, and England needed try-saving tackles by Daly and Anthony Watson to keep Matias Moroni and Santiago Carreras out.
England regrouped and got on the scoreboard in the ninth minute after an impressive rolling maul took them into the danger zone and May sprinted over.
Argentina’s hopes were then dealt a fatal blow after 17 minutes when Lavanini became the latest player to fall foul of the game’s new high tackle directive when he was sent off for thumping his shoulder into the jaw of Farrell with huge force.
The Pumas might have felt a little hard done by when Manu Tuilagi was lucky not to be yellow-carded for tackling Emiliano Boffelli in the air but they were having to work desperately hard to keep England at bay.
England’s forwards eventually made the difference, hammering the line late in the half to create space and tries for Daly and Youngs – eight years after he scored in England’s win in the same pool fixture in the 2011 tournament.
Farrell, unusually, hooked all three conversions and a penalty wide, meaning England reached the break 15-3 up but very much in control.
They secured a bonus point five minutes into the second half when powerful charges by man-of-the-match Sam Underhill and Tuilagi opened the way for Ford to dart over.
That seemed to mark the end of the game as a contest as England rolled through the changes, with the only real worry being an ankle injury suffered by key number eight Billy Vunipola and prop Joe Marler appearing to have a hamstring problem.
Moroni scored under the posts after a rare Argentina break but it merely poked the beast as replacement Jack Nowell – in his first appearance since suffering a terrible ankle injury in May – bounced off three defenders to score the fifth try and Cowan-Dickie got the sixth after another unstoppable maul.
After the heartbreak of their late defeat by France in their opening game, it was a tough watch for Argentina coach Mario Ledesma.
“Obviously after the red card it became really hard but we made many easy mistakes that we could have avoided,” he said.
“We couldn’t build momentum but the commitment of the boys was incredible and they never stopped fighting.”
(Reporting by Mitch Phillips, editing by Tony Lawrence)