England see off Pumas in scrappy opener
England launched their November international campaign with an unconvincing 21-8 victory over 2019 World Cup pool opponents Argentina at Twickenham on Saturday.
Nathan Hughes scored his first Test try and Semesa Rokoduguni also crossed for England before Nicolas Sanchez went over late on for the Pumas in an error-strewn match.
England’s pack won the battle up front, with prop Mako Vunipola named man-of-the-match.
“There’s stuff to work on,” England captain Dylan Hartley told Sky Sports.
“Ball in hand, I think we need to get into the right areas of the field and then treasure the ball,” the hooker added.
“Too many times it ended up in touch.”
Meanwhile former soldier Rokoduguni said scoring a try on Armistice Day, which commemorates war dead, was particularly poignant.
“Today is one of the biggest days for service personnel and it was an honour to represent both the army and England, the Bath wing told the BBC.
This was England’s fourth successive victory against Argentina in just over a year, including a 2-0 series triumph in Argentina in June.
England will surely need to go up a gear if they are to beat Australia at Twickenham a week on Saturday.
For the Pumas, defeat continued a miserable 2017 that has seen them record just one victory in 10 Tests — against Georgia in June.
England started with Henry Slade at inside centre and Sam Underhill in the pack as coach Eddie Jones rested the British and Irish Lions duo of Owen Farrell and Maro Itoje.
In an unfamiliar black change kit at a rainy Twickenham, the hosts had a chance to take the lead as early as the second minute.
But fly-half Ford, taking over kicking duties in Farrell’s absence, saw a 35-metre penalty attempt hit the right post.
He was twice on target from closer range, however, after Argentina conceded two needless ruck penalties.
Ford’s successful goal kicks came either side of wing Emiliano Boffelli’s eighth-minute effort for the Pumas.
A key moment of the first half came in the 22nd minute when Argentina wing Joaquin Tuculet was sin-binned for taking out England fullback Mike Brown in mid-air as the pair contested a high ball.
It seemed a harsh decision but South African referee Marius van der Westhuizen ruled Tuculet was “not in a realistic position” to attempt a catch and, after studying video replays, produced a yellow card.
Brown — who has a history of concussion injuries — was replaced by Rokoduguni after appearing to land awkwardly on his head.
Soon afterwards, with Argentina a man down, England scored their first try when Ford’s excellent cut-out pass found Hughes wide on the right, with the No 8 charging over from close range.
Ford could not convert but England led 11-3.
Argentina fly-half Juan Martin Hernandez, preferred to Nicolas Sanchez by coach Daniel Hourcade, had two chances to close the gap shortly before the half-hour mark.
But from out left on the 22 he has off target with a penalty and then, from a similar distance, on the right, the veteran playmaker made a horrible mess of another penalty kick, pulling the ball far across the face of the posts.
Instead, it was England who scored next.
Ford’s clever chip ahead was regathered by half-back partner Ben Youngs, who in turn passed to Slade only for the Exeter midfielder to be tackled without the ball.
Ford made no mistake with a simple penalty six minutes before half-time.
England threatened on the counter-attack after the break but passes from Slade and Anthony Watson to go astray.
Argentina were unable to reduce the deficit when Boffelli was well wide with a long-range penalty shortly before the hour mark and were then denied by solid England defence at a maul.
Sanchez replaced Hernandez in the 64th minute but he too then missed a kickable penalty.
England extended their lead 14 minutes from time when substitute back Alex Lozowski made a surging break deep into Argentina’s 22.
The ball was recycled and Slade’s long pass put Rokoduguni in at the right corner.
After checking for a forward pass, van der Westhuizen awarded the try and Ford kicked a tough conversion to make it 21-3.
Argentina had the last word, though, when an impressive 30-phase move two minutes from time led to a Sanchez try.
But it was too little too late for the Pumas, who saw Sanchez’s conversion attempt rebound off the post.