England beat Argentina in thriller
- Credit: PA Wire/PA Images
Argentina 34 England 38
Saracens Alex Lozowski and Nick Isiekwe had England debuts to remember as rugby league convert Denny Solomona made a dramatic entrance into international rugby union with a last-minute try to snatch victory over Argentina.
The former Super League record-breaking winger was introduced for his debut 10 minutes into the second half with England leading 23-17, but it looked like it was going horribly wrong as he watched in agony as the Pumas immediately ran in two quick-fire tries to lead 31-23.
The brilliance of George Ford helped his side draw level only for replacement fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez to restore Argentina’s lead with a drop goal three minutes from the end.
However, there was still time for one last, dramatic twist as Joe Launchbury and Piers Francis combined to get Solomona into space and he produced a trademark decisive finish with his first touch of the ball.
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Ford kicked his seventh goal from eight attempts to finish with a 23-point haul and wrap up a breathtaking victory in the first of two Tests that enabled England to get back to winning ways.
Without 30 players, largely due to British and Irish Lions calls, head coach Eddie Jones sent out a side virtually unrecognisable from the one that lost to Ireland in the last match of the RBS 6 Nations in March.
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Flankers Tom Curry and Mark Wilson, Saracens centre Lozowski and prop Harry Williams all made impressive debuts, with another seven uncapped players introduced from the bench for their first appearances at Estadio San Juan del Bicentenario in the shadow of the sun-kissed Andes.
At the other end of the scale, captain Dylan Hartley won his 85th cap, overtaking Martin Johnson to become the third-equal most capped England international of all time alongside Rory Underwood and Lawrence Dallaglio, and with only Jason Leonard and Jonny Wilkinson now in front of him.
Hartley and England made a nervous start, being penalised at the first scrum and losing the first line-out on the skipper’s throw.
Fly-half Nicholas Sanchez was narrowly wide with a third-minute penalty from 50 metres out but the tourists failed to clear the danger and five minutes later winger Emiliano Boffelli timed his run to perfection to touch down Sanchez’s grubber kick to the corner for a try on debut.
Sanchez added the difficult conversion to put his side into a 7-0 lead and the Pumas, urged on by an expectant near-capacity 25,000 crowd, were full of energy and enthusiasm.
Full-back Mike Brown fumbled a high kick from Sanchez and Wilson’s pass deep inside his own half was intercepted as the home side maintained the pressure. It was relieved when Argentina were penalised at the breakdown and Ford put over a 50-metre penalty on 14 minutes to open his side’s scoring.
Ford kicked a second penalty in the 24th minute after Argentina were punished by referee Nigel Owens for not rolling away to cut the deficit to a point and went in front for the first time four minutes later when Marland Yarde got on the end of a cut-out pass from Ford and rounded his opposite number to touch down at the corner.
Ford’s touchline conversion put England into a 13-7 lead but they conceded again six minutes before the break when second row forward Tomas Lavanini was driven over for a second Argentinian try. Sanchez added the conversion to restore his side’s lead before kicking a penalty on the stroke of half-time.
Trailing 17-13 at the break, England briefly wrestled back control of the game in an impressive start to the second half.
Ford brought his side back to within a point with his third penalty within three minutes of the restart, and five minutes later winger Jonny May raced on to a kick from centre Henry Slade, who showed some nice footwork to create the opening.
Ford maintained his expert marksmanship with his fifth successful kick from as many attempts to make it 23-17 and that was the signal for Jones to send on Solomona.
However, the game started to go horribly wrong for the visitors when their defence cracked twice in three minutes.
Scrum-half Martin Landajo skipped past Curry to put centre Jeronimo De la Fuente over before winger Matias Moroni broke clear and Boffelli was in support to get full-back Joaquin Tuculet over for a superb try.
Sanchez added both conversions to make it 31-23 and had a chance to extend the lead but was off target with another penalty attempt.
Those quickfire tries lifted the crowd but they were quickly subdued once more as the momentum of the game took another shift.
Ford maintained his excellence with the boot by landing a monster penalty from 55 metres out on 62 minutes and then took a return pass from Francis to go over for England’s third try.
That brought the scores level but Ford was off target with the conversion attempt and the Pumas thought they had won it through Hernandez, only for Solomona to have the final say.
England: Genge (Mullan 54), Hartley, Williams (Collier 61), Launchbury, Ewels (Isiekwe 76), Wilson, Curry (Armand 70), Hughes, Care (Maunder 77), Ford, May, Lozowski (Francis 54), Slade, Yarde (Solomona 50), Brown.