George Ford masterminded a remarkable England victory forged in adversity after Argentina were toppled 27-10 in their World Cup opener despite Tom Curry being sent off in the third minute.
Ford led England out of a crisis created by Curry’s dangerous challenge on Juan Cruz Mallia that resulted in the Sale flanker’s yellow card being upgraded to red by the bunker review system.
Taking command, Ford landed three drop-goals and six penalties as Argentina were kicked into oblivion on a warm night at the Stade Velodrome in what was one of the nation’s greatest acts of defiance on a rugby field.
— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) September 9, 2023
While the outstanding Sale fly-half was busy steering England around the pitch and keeping the scoreboard ticking over, his team-mates fought themselves to a standstill with Ben Earl and Courtney Lawes magnificent.
It was an ugly spectacle with neither side functioning in attack, but Steve Borthwick’s men showed the character needed to place one foot in the quarter-finals by taking control of Pool D at the expense of their greatest rivals.
A giant stride forward was taken in plugging their leaky defence, but discipline remains a major concern, with Curry set to join Owen Farrell and Billy Vunipola in being banned for periods of the World Cup.
England will argue that Curry was unfortunate to become the country’s first red card at a World Cup – and the fastest in the tournament’s history – despite the clash of heads that came as a result of his tackle.
And when Santiago Carreras was punished with only a sin-binning for clattering late into Ford early on, they had additional cause for grievance.
Once the initial drama of Curry’s dismissal had subsided, England rolled up their sleeves to withstand a battering on their line by Argentina’s pack, winning a penalty that enabled them to clear their lines.
They have often delivered a spirited response when down on numbers and so it was proving in Marseille as a methodical drive downfield ended with Ford landing a drop-goal.
Ford repeated the trick but this time from the halfway line as a monster kick sailed between the uprights with distance to spare.
The glaring deficiencies in England’s attack were apparent as they butchered a four-on-two overlap, but with Ford landing drop-goals at will – he coolly added a third from short range – it did not seem to matter.
Even with Curry sat watching in the stand they built a 12-3 lead, helped by rattled opponents who were also struggling with the ball in hand.
The intensity was cranked up for the second half, forcing a breakdown penalty that Ford inevitably steered between the uprights, while in reply the Pumas squirted the ball forward to end a rare attack.
Manu Tuilagi cut Santiago Chocobares in half with a wince-inducing tackle and with Ford on target from the kicking tee twice in quick succession, it was starting to look bleak for Argentina.
Over went the fifth and then sixth penalties and although the shambolic Pumas finally crossed through Rodrigo Bruni in the closing moments, their fate was already sealed.