Time for Steve Borthwick’s side to deliver – England v Argentina talking points

By Sports Desk September 08, 2023

England and Argentina collide in their pivotal World Cup opener at the Stade Velodrome on Saturday with Steve Borthwick’s side in the unusual position of being considered underdogs.

Here the PA news agency examines five talking points heading into the fixture.

Moment of truth

England have been upbeat since their arrival in France, refreshed by the change of scenery that provided a locational reset in the wake of losing five of their last six Tests. The positive talk must now be backed up with action on the pitch but on the basis of recent evidence it is hard to see how the upset will be sprung given so many areas of their game are malfunctioning. The stakes are high – win and England suddenly have a cause to rally around, lose and each remaining game in Pool D brings do or die jeopardy.

Time to deliver

A curious feature of England’s dismal run of just three wins in nine Tests under head coach Borthwick has been the lack of form seen from stars such as Ellis Genge, Maro Itoje, Jamie George and Freddie Steward. If Argentina are to be dispatched, they will need to exit their slump with a bang. On paper, England have a strong starting XV but when so many are underperforming the odds are stacked against them.

Mitchell’s World Cup rollercoaster

Few shards of light emerged out of the gloom of a first defeat by Fiji, but the urgency brought at scrum-half by Alex Mitchell’s full debut was one of them. The Northampton player added zip to the game with speedier service and quicker decision-making and his selection represents a change in thinking from Borthwick, who was expected to pick England’s most capped player Ben Youngs in the number-nine jersey. Mitchell now has a central role in Pool D’s box-office clash despite not being included in the original 41-man training squad, his opportunity arising when Jack van Poortvliet suffered a tournament-ending ankle injury against Wales at Twickenham.

Curry reinforces England

It is a reflection of Tom Curry’s influence on England that he has been propelled straight into the back row despite missing the entire build-up campaign because of damaged ankle ligaments. The squad’s fittest player, his conditioning is never in question and he has experience of making a successful immediate return from injury lay-offs. Regarded as the team’s defensive kingpin, he will provide physical intent and add to England’s breakdown potency in his first appearance since Borthwick replaced Eddie Jones in December. A lot of hopes are being pinned on his return.

Pumas on the prowl

Argentina’s scrum may not be the force of old, but the Pumas have evolved their overall game significantly. Their appetite for forward combat remains undiminished, but is now led by the back rather than front row and their breakdown work has improved as a result. The threequarters possess genuine X-factor with the likes of wings Mateo Carreras and Emiliano Boffelli and they are a cohesive team who will fight until the final minute, playing with a sense of purpose grounded in their fierce national pride. There is much to admire about a team that stormed Twickenham in November and is capable of progressing deeper into the tournament.

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