Johnson relieved after England just pip Pumas
England manager Martin Johnson admitted he was thankful after seeing his side struggle to beat Argentina 16-9 in a low-grade encounter here at Twickenham on Saturday.
Matt Banahan’s try 10 minutes from the finish, the only time England crossed the Pumas’ line, could not disguise how the hosts rarely threatened in attack, kicked poorly, repeatedly knocked on – with full-back Ugo Monye especially culpable – and seemingly only ran with the ball as a last resort.
“I can’t come off a performance like that and pretend it was a good performance,” Johnson told reporters.
Much had been made of the injuries England had suffered in the build-up to this month’s internationals, which started for Johnson’s men with last week’s 18-9 loss to Australia.
But the Pumas – fielding a starting side featuring three debutants and four amateurs – had fitness problems too.
And had Argentina been able to include either of their key injured playmakers in Juan Martin Hernandez and Felipe Contepomi, both world-class goalkickers, the outcome might have been different.
As it was, debutant centre Martin Rodriguez missed three penalties.
“If they had been on target, things could have been very different,” said Johnson, whose team were left hanging on for victory at the finish as the Pumas pressed for a converted try that would have levelled the scores.
Even though England, beaten 24-22 by Argentina in Salta in June, won, many fans would have left Twickenham with a sense of foreboding ahead of next week’s match against New Zealand.
“It was pretty difficult to watch at times. We made a lot of errors,” Johnson said. “But ultimately it’s about finding a way to win a game. I’m thankful we did.”
England’s 2003 World Cup-winning captain added: “There were times when we could have kept the ball in hand, we kicked too much, and our kick reception was poor.”
After a first half that ended all square at 9-9, England were booed off the field by the Twickenham faithful and Johnson said: “We probably deserved it… They had every right not to be happy.”
Argentina captain Juan Martin Fernandez Lobbe had mixed emotions.
“In a way we are happy, we are satisfied,” the back-row said. “We said we should play our gameplan, give everything and put England under pressure.
“We are disappointed that through one little mistake, we ended up losing the game,” added Fernandez Lobbe, a team-mate of England five-eighth Jonny Wilkinson at French club Toulon.
“The defence was really good. We analysed how England were going to play, it didn’t surprise us.”
Argentina next face Wales at the Millennium Stadium a week on Saturday and Fernandez Lobbe added: “We had a few guys who were playing their first game, we have to be happy.
“We can take a lot of positive things from this game but it will be even tougher at the Millennium.”
England saw the normally reliable Wilkinson, who kicked 11 points in the game, miss with three successive penalty attempts.
“Frustration is going to kill you if you let it,” Johnson said. “As the clock wears on and it’s still level on the scoreboard, it gets more and more tense.
“I just said to the guys ‘there’s a hundred things we can say but ultimately we won it’. Everyone was telling us how big a game it was.
“At the end we were fighting for three inches of turf at Twickenham, we could have lost the game.”
And he agreed England would have to up their level significantly if they were to beat New Zealand.
“It’s a different dynamic,” Johnson said. “But we will need to improve.”© AAP 2013
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