England slap Argentina in World Cup opener despite red card

Maybe it was all the practice England have had at playing with 14 men lately but against all odds after the early dismissal of Tom Curry, they found it within themselves to deliver an extraordinary backs-to-the-wall victory over Argentina in Marseille.

Curry’s sending off was England’s third red card in four matches but it prompted a stunningly resilient performance which banished the clouds and put them in pole position to qualify from Pool A.

It needed brawn to tackle the beefy Pumas to a standstill and, led by their ageless captain Courtney Lawes and a resurgent Manu Tuilagi, England were not short in that department.

But it also needed brains and in George Ford they had the man with the plan to pilot England to their win.

Ford kicked all 27 points – nine of them in a remarkable run of drop goals in the second quarter.

It was reminiscent of the Jannie de Beer drop goal blitz which knocked England out of the 1999 World Cup in France.

In a crisis, he essentially became England’s on-field player-coach. He assessed the situation coolly, worked the problem smartly and delivered clinically.

Who needs Owen Farrell?

When Farrell is available again after his suspension it will be an interesting call for Steve Borthwick as to who to pick as his playmaker.

Curry will face a disciplinary hearing in midweek which will determine whether his tournament is already over. It would be rough justice if it was.

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Making his return after missing all of England’s warm-up Tests through injury, the all-action flanker clashed heads with Argentina full-back Juan Cruz Mallia in the third minute.

There was no intent from Curry, chasing a high ball, but with so much attention on player welfare at this tournament there was trouble looming as soon as the TMO intervened.

Curry was shown a yellow card on the field by French referee Mathie Raynal and the decision referred for an in-game bunker review for a possible upgrade.

While they deliberated the mule-hoofed Emiliano Boffelli punished England on the scoreboard with a penalty from halfway and Mallia went off for running repairs to a cut head.

The bad news was confirmed for a crestfallen Curry eight minutes later.

It was briefly 14 v 14 after Argentina lost Santiago Carreras to the sin-bin for a late challenge on Ford who kicked the resulting penalty but the review on the incident went the Pumas’ way and Carreras returned.

Argentina’s heavies up front pressed for a try as they chose to run a kickable penalty but some magnificent breakdown work from Courtney Lawes rescued England.

Then came the start of the Ford drop goal show. With nothing on in attack, his first success from 45 metres just before the half hour looked a last-resort option.

Realising this could be a plan worth persevering with, England’s stand-off repeated the trick three minutes later only from five metres further out.

Ford’s third – a more straightforward affair from 25 metres four minutes before the break – gave England an unlikely 12-3 interval lead.

Ford stretched England’s lead six minutes after the break when the Pumas were caught offside.

And when Maro Itoje squeezed another penalty out of Argentina after some thumping England defence Ford pushed the lead out further.

Another Ford penalty and it was a scarcely believable 21-3 heading into the last quarter.

The Sale stand-off added two more late on as Argentina’s discipline fell apart as badly as the rest of their game.

The World’s No 6-ranked side froze in the headlights as opportunity knocked with England short-handed.

As for a try, the only one of the night was a consolation for Argentina a minute from time from Rodrigo Bruni but in the circumstances who cares?

It was a famous win for England – and so badly needed after the summer which has preceded it.

The one pity was that while the Princess of Wales was safely in her seat to see it, plenty of fans were still making their way into the Stade Velodrome well after kick-off.

It was an unsatisfactory situation which reflected poorly on the organisers in Marseille.

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